Venus vs Modernity
Saartjie Baartman (Lebo Mashile) was a prominent figure in the 1800s. A South African Khoikhoi, she spent the majority of her life being ridiculed by the British and the French due to her varied body type and foreign skin tone. Two centuries later in Venus vs Modernity, Baartman’s story has been brought to the stage by Nigeria’s literary, cultural and arts festival – Aké – so that it may continue to shed light on the hardship and abuse that many African women still face today.
Having lived through times of colonialism and slavery, Baartman endured a long fight to make sure that her voice could be heard. The show’s narrative unfolds through dance, song and the spoken word, following Saartjie from Cape Town to England where she is promised fame and fortune by the sweet-mouthed Brits who pledge to take the new arrival under their wing. Throughout her adventures, she is accompanied by Venus (Ann Masina), a fiery character who adds a fictionalised element to the story through her interactions with Baartman.
Mashile has an extraordinary talent for mimicry which she exercises firmly and effortlessly over the course of the play. Likewise, Masina is a gifted singer whose soothing operatic voice is magnetic and trance-like. Written by the leading actress, the production aims to be as relevant today as it would have been 200 years ago. She achieves this by utilising the stage to remind women about the importance of self-worth and encourage them to fight for their rights and beliefs while being careful not to sell themselves short.
Though there were some glitches – such as the performers’ voices being occasionally silenced by the loud backing track – the message of the story is loud and clear. Diversity and inclusivity are the historical pillars of our lives, and they must be preserved.
Venus vs Modernity is online from 24th October 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.