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Sat Oct 01 17:31:49 SAST 2016

Giving Baartman a voice

Aron Hyman | 08 January, 2016 00:36
SPIRITUAL CONNECTION: Deidre Jantjies says that as a young coloured woman she feels connected to Sarah Baartman
Image by: ESA ALEXANDER

"Saartjie Baartman didn't have a voice and, 200 years later, she talks through me."

This is what Cape Town filmmaker and stage performer Deidre Jantjies, 25, sees herself doing through an ambitious project to bring Baartman, a South African icon and Khoisan slave, to the big screen.

Baartman became famous when she was exhibited in European freak shows in the early 19th century. She made international news headlines this week when UK newspaper The Sun reported that US singer Beyoncé Knowles had plans to direct and star in a film about Baartman's life.

While Beyoncé has since denied being part of the project, the controversy about a non-South African playing the part has breathed new life into a project that has become Jantjies' passion.

Jantjies travelled to the Sunny Side of the Doc film marketplace in France last year to pitch her idea. But because of the Beyoncé controversy she is suddenly being taken seriously.

Jantjies' obsession with Baartman, who was born in 1789 in Eastern Cape and taken to London in her early 20s to be exhibited for her large buttocks, began when she went to high school in Dysselsdorp, near Oudtshoorn.

As she developed into a woman, others nicknamed her Saartjie Baartman.

"It wasn't nice to hear that they were making gay of an icon," said Jantjies, who works as an intern videographer. "Last year I had an identity crisis. We, as brown people, are lost in a way. I asked my parents where we come from and they couldn't answer me.

"There are so many ways I feel I can relate to Saartjie, from not being accepted to not being seen. Physical appearance was prescribed to us and I have always felt I'm ugly. I felt that my look, my class, my speech was different to everyone else's.

"I connect to Saartjie. She came looking for me."

Because of her "deep spiritual connection" to Baartman, she was angry when she heard Beyoncé wanted to play Baartman.

"It meant my project wouldn't stand a chance."

She wants to tell more stories of the Khoisan and restore identities "suppressed by imperialists".

"We are sitting on gold. Our circumstances, where we live, where we come from. I want to tell these stories," she said.

Jantjies released a three-minute film on December 29, the 200th anniversary of Baartman's death in Paris, titled How I as a young coloured woman feel connected to Saartjie Baartman.

You can view the video on Youtube and Livemag.co.za.

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