A BREAKING BOXES PRODUCTION
THE STORY OF SAARTJIE BAARTMAN
The film version of the award-winning stage play forms part of Ake Arts and Book Festival. Ake is a four day Pan-African literary arts festival based in Lagos, Nigeria. In a moment in history defined by COVID-19, as well as the cataclysmic events taking place currently in Nigeria, Ake is simultaneously running one of the largest curated digital festival programmes on the African continent from 22-25 October.
The events occurring right now in Nigeria, Congo, Namibia, the United States, and South Africa mirror what is happening to Black people in many parts of the world. This makes Ake Festival, and other cultural platforms like it, absolutely vital in order to interpret, analyze, and give meaning to the events of 2020.
The creation of the film version of Venus Vs Modernity is a Pan-African partnership between Ake Festival, its founder, author and organizer, Lola Shoneyin, and poet and playwright, Lebogang Mashile. The one act, two hander play stars opera singer Ann Masina as Venus and Lebogang Mashile as Saartjie. Masina recently won the Best Newcomer Award at the Naledi Theatre Awards for her breathtaking and boundary breaking performance in the title role.
Saartjie Baartman, whose ample bodied silhouette has been an iconic image for two centuries, was a woman of Khoi descent born in the Qamtoos River Valley in what is now the Eastern Cape in the late 1700s. At the age of 15, she was abducted and enslaved in Cape Colony. Just a few few years later she was put on display in Europe because of the shape of her body, and she immediately became a pop culture sensation. She endured a life of harrowing abuse that continued beyond her death until her remains were returned to South Africa in 2002.
Venus Vs Modernity explores themes of history, colonialism, sex work, romance, fame, religion, and body image through spoken word and music. It is a wildly entertaining ride examining the push and pull between freedom and slavery. From hip hop to opera, pop stars to advertising, the world depicted is every bit as much 2020 as it is 1820.
The original stage production, directed by Pamela Nomvete and Koleka Putuma, has been performed at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and at Afro-Vibes Festival in Amsterdam. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it is no longer possible for audiences to gather in theatres. Theatre makers are left with the challenge of how to make productions live on digital screens in order to access audiences.
Matthew Griffiths directs the film version of Venus Vs Modernity which is an intentional artistic experiment to capture the theatrical world of the play within the medium of film. This version also allows the story to travel while theatres worldwide remain in lockdown.
As xenophobic and nationalistic sentiments rise globally, and as Afrophobia rises in South Africa in particular, this artistic collaboration points to how the arts allow humanity to transcend physical borders, to expand conversations, and in so doing, to grow minds, and create the space to imagine solutions. It is honourable and immensely generous that the resources that made this film possible have been shared by a Pan African, feminist, creative platform located within a country that is on fire at this very moment - a country whose brilliance overflows to the extent that is is able to help capture the life of one of South Africa’s most important, and unforgettable daughters, Saartjie Baartman.
Video excerpt | Venus hottentot vs. Modernity
Reviews & Write ups
Podcasts & Television
“This play was awesome and very educational 🔥🔥🔥 a full house also.”
- Katlego M-ten Mosomane
“If you are a woman you suffered or still suffering because you were born a woman. If your body is a battle ground. Your daughter’s body is a war zone. If you are a woman and you were hurt..drugged..dumped..raped..sodomised..molested..and died on the inside then it is time you speak up 🗣is time to heal... you are a strong 💪beautiful FAT woman💃you deserve to reclaim all parts of yourself you lost when a WAR was declared on your BODY! … watch this amazing story I have and omg I’m healed🤗”
- Ntswakzin Maseko
“… I seen it and damn, I ain't never seen anything better… Painful and powerful at the same time.”
- Thando Mgqolozana
“… Never have I walked out of a theatre addressing such a heavy and layered subject feeling inspired and empowered. Phenomenal work... I’m still in awe.”
“… Venus vs Modernity: The Story of Saartjie Baartman Lebogang Mashile is a beautiful genius. Thank you for sharing your deeply moving creation with us.”
- Hayden Horner
Last night I went to see #VenusvsModernitySaartjieBaartman, and if you haven't gotten your ticket(s) yet, better hurry up as this play will take your breath away. Two powerful performances from Lebogang Mashile and Ann Masina bring Saartjie's tragic tale to life against the backdrop of brutal colonialism, slavery(human trafficking) and degradation.
I went to the play with an open heart and mind, and even went down the rabbit hole with Saartjie to find my own Truth as a 1. Woman and 2. Black Woman.
Kudos to Lebogang, Ann and the production team for bringing Saartjie to life and appreciating her as an Ancestor and a woman who left an impact in South African history.
- Mpho G. Matima