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Art Diary

Black Venus: Reclaiming Black Women in Visual Culture

4 August 2023

This wide-ranging group show at Somerset House in London (until 24 September) brings together the work of 18 Black women and non-binary artists alongside archival imagery to reflect on the ways that the Black female body has been objectified and caricatured. The exhibition draws on three stereotypes – the Hottentot Venus, the Sable Venus and the Jezebel – to examine how Black women have been historically represented in visual culture while reflecting on the complex lived experience that informs the practices of artists working today. Among the contemporary artists seeking to reclaim narratives around Black femininity are Renee Cox, whose HOTT-EN-TOT (1994) which turns the figure of the 19th-century enslaved woman Sarah Baartman – often depicted in profile – around to boldly face the viewer, and Carla Williams, who also took on Baartman’s story in a series of nude photographic self-portraits entitled Venus (1992–94). Find out more on Somerset House’s website.

Preview belowView Apollo’s Art Diary

Instant Model (1976), Ming Smith. Courtesy the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London

Venus (1992–94), Carla Williams. Courtesy the artist

Highness Blue – Hybrid 1 (2011), Delphine Diallo, featuring Joanne Petit-Frère’s Nefertiti’s Return Crown and Nefertiti’s Return Face Shield (both 2010–11). © MTArt, Delphine Diallo, Joanne Petit-Frère & JoGoesWest