Sarah Baartman sculpture exhibited at UCT

Willie Besters renowned Sarah Baartman sculpture at the Ritchie Gallery.
The University of Cape Town (UCT) is running an exhibition as part of an ongoing process and dialogue about the display of artworks at the university, with the intention of creating a more open and inclusive space. 

The Sarah Baartman sculpture by Willie Bester is being exhibited alongside a sound installation featuring a poem by Diana Ferrus, images and other artwork in an exhibition entitled Sarah ‘Saartjie’ Baartman, A Call to Respond which is being held at the Ritchie Gallery on UCT’s Hiddingh campus.

The exhibition, which runs until Thursday October 4, is part of an ongoing process. It has also been designed as an expressive space and a place for thinking and reflecting. People are also free to write their own messages on a wall which forms part of the display.

Senior lecturer in art history at UCT’s Michaelis School of Fine Art, Dr Nomusa Makhubu, said “Art is not just the beautiful things we put on walls and in various spaces, but they themselves are the intellectual discourse we are looking for. This sculpture has become a very significant catalyst for that intellectual discourse, about a number of things, but also focusing on the narrative of Sarah Baartman.”

UCT acquired the sculpture in 2000. It was initially located in the engineering section of the Chancellor Oppenheimer Library on the upper campus. 

“It was not only an inappropriate location, but a difficult sculpture to engage with and deal with,” said Dr Makhubu.

Both the location of the sculpture and the emotional responses to it became very important, particularly during the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall protests of 2015 and 2016. 

During that time, black women students clothed the sculpture in a kanga and a headwrap to give Baartman her dignity. This provoked debates and evoked strong emotions.

Apart from the sculpture, images of the robed Baartman and texts that were pinned to the cloth wrapped around her body are on display. 

A piece authored by a collective of black women academics at UCT, under the banner of the Black Academic Caucus Womxn’s Collective, also forms part of the collection. 

Ferrus’s poem, I’ve come to take you home, about the return of Baartman’s remains from the Musee de l’Homme to South Africa, plays alongside the artworks.