Remembering Saatjie Bartman 2020
Art Installation in Lordship Hub Cafe
Lordship Hub hosted a site specific piece of art work created by Zethu Maseko that offers links between Black History month and the 2020 activities of the Black Lives Matter movement that took place in Lordship Rec. Zethu initially intended to create a piece through engaging others in a workshop process but Covid-19 restrictions interrupted these plans and the result is a more personal response to Black History month 2020.
Interview with Zethu Maseko by Issy Harvey
How did this piece develop?
…Creating this piece is my contribution to the conversations that have been taking place about black identity, black history, racism. I feel there is generally a lack of celebration of the achievements and contributions of Black people to our history here..
I was thinking about that.. getting people involved and making something that celebrates the multiculturalism of Tottenham….how all of us are here together and we each have our own identity’s here which are all informed by our heritage’s, where we came from, and together these form this bubble, this mixing pot of all our different cultures. I wanted to engage with that but when COVID-19 restrictions made it much more difficult to involve other women in workshops as I’d planned… the work became more personal as I thought more about my own heritage (South Africa) and how that is situated here in Tottenham….
The piece commemorates a young woman my age, named Saartjie Bartman, who was taken from the Eastern Cape to London in 1810, to be exhibited for her bodily features. She was exhibited across Europe from the age of 20 until her death aged 25 and then she was dissected and her body parts continued to exhibited in France until 1974. That is 159 years after she actually died. Her story represents how enslaving African people was excused by presenting them as subhuman specimens to be exhibited … so when I was thinking about what I wanted to commemorate with this quilt I’ve found I kept thinking of my own heritage in the cape region, how the objectification of black women’s bodies still continues today and how this is rooted in the colonial and patriarchal gaze.
Why have you chosen the quilt form for this piece?
There’s been a history within feminist art practise of reclaiming the quilt as an art form. It’s a feminine medium. A feminine technique. There’s a strong history of Black women in the southern States of America protesting through quilting.
How does this connect for you with the BLM movement that was expressed in Lordship Rec this summer?
There’s so many similarities between police brutality in USA and here. Our community here in Tottenham is over policed. We live in a racist society. There were so many other conversations – such as how we address police violence or decolonialise our streets – that I have not referenced here. The exhibition does also include a reparations banner, to highlight one of these more recent conversations that’s been going on locally. This banner was made through workshops held in Lordship Rec during the Black Lives Matter meetings and taken to a protest in Brixton. It says ‘you’re lucky we only want reparations and not revenge’ and I think once you know the story of Saartjie Bartman, it raises the question of how something like that could ever be reconciled.
What is your aim as an artist and founder of North London Creative Resistance group?
I feel like art is a means to have a conversation or to continue a conversation and to make the conversation more accessible, to more people …the practise of engaging in a workshop is usually an empowering one ..so for me it is a way of mobilising people, empowering people and giving people a space to express their experiences …
Growing up and living in a community that has been under-resourced, underfunded, under-supported… I’d say looked down upon and dehumanised by the rest of London. .. makes me want to bring more visibility to Tottenham. I love my area, I love my community and I know there’s many incredible, amazing people here who just need to be given the space. I want to give back to it and I want to empower it.