Du Plessis, Anja
Robinson, Alexa P.
Format Extent1 artwork
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Copyright Stellenbosch University
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Description of Artwork Originally inspired by the role of women in the South African scientific community, specifically in the realm of botany, we looked at the work of female botanists. During the early years of science in South Africa, when women were not yet accepted and valued as scientists, there were an unexpectedly high number of female botanists. We came to understand that this was a result of botany being seen as a somewhat acceptable pursuit for women, somewhere in between the practices of gardening, drawing and science. This belief allowed women to use botany as a foot in the door to academic pursuits, a way to gain recognition and respect from the wider academic community. In particular, we looked at the work of Margaret Levyns, the first woman to be awarded a doctorate in science from the University of Cape Town. Some of Levyn’s most notable work was on the genus Muraltia, colloquially known as the Skilpadbessie. While some white women were fortunate to find a way to use science to gain standing in the patriarchal establishment, others suffered under science as a tool of oppression. Such was the case of Sara Baardman, a Khoikhoi woman, who was displayed in circuses, freak shows and travelling zoos around Europe, all because of her anatomy. Baardman, like many Khoikhoi women, had large buttocks and elongated labia. European men made a profit by displaying Sara’s body to the public, while anatomists, zoologists and physiologists studied her anatomy and concluded that the Khoi people were the link between humans and animals. We used the imagery of the Skilpadbessie, found in Levyn’s work on the genus, and labelled the images anatomically, as a tribute to how Baardman herself was reduced to a scientific specimen rather than a human being, and her anatomy labelled as such. The two figures in the centre represent both women and their experiences, of being elevated or subjugated through science.
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