Sarah Baartman Museum

2009

A site of learning and memory for Sarah Barttman represents a seminal moment in the discourse of power, ownership, identity, gender and the body politic. Hers is a singular narrative of dispossession, othering, and tragic consequences of knowledge and learning in the absence of morality or humanistic ethics.   Equally a victim and a heroine of the post-renaissance attitude towards enlightenment and classification, her story is a universal code for the struggle to describe and appreciate humanity in its total expression.

 

GENERAL CONCEPT OF THE ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN

The binary code of Homo Sapiens, African, woman, daughter, friend, service provider, prostitute, test subject, etc all point to a crisis of the human condition and a poverty of interpreting what she means to south Africans, and indeed of humanity.  The bar-code; grand symbol of itemized commodity, possession, and the contemporary version of the cattle brand is used as tool to disrupt the empirical basis upon which value is measured.

The future hold for the category of the human when the self-as-proprietor explodes into a dispersed network of corporate interests is one that the design seeks to contest. The concept is a form of social protest which challenges the privatization of identity, and it recodes interests and objectification into meaning. 

The site as a whole is seen a space of learning, reflection, bereavement and celebration, solemnity and the everyday, where the sacred and profane find an uneasy co-existence- a tension which serves to stimulate discussion into the intangible aspects of humanity. Sarah’s story is our story.

 

KEY SPATIAL, FORMAL, STRUCTURAL AND FUNCTIONAL FEATURES OF THE DESIGN

The pre-determined site (as identified by others,) stems from a particular logos of a empirical minimal impact on the physical landscape, but does not suggest an innovation of siting practice in terms  of exploring heterogenous and thus multi-valent cultural space. The intention of the site is to create the conditions in which the pilgrim, visitor, tourist, employee, and scholar become signifiers in an optimised spatial journey which is not trapped in the banal constraints of a normative positional strategy, but rather that approach and the experience of the building- landscape are seen as concomitant and of equal importance.  The intervention is seen as a series of overlapping fields of relationships which position the memorial mound and Paris in a three way conversation across space and time and meaning. The intervention has a cosmic relationship to the heavens, using a very particular arrangement for architectural clues, whilst embedding the primary axis of the building along a valley which in various pre-colonial cultures often represented the earth mimicking fertility of woman.  The allocated site is seen as a series of gardens, raging in thematic approach from fertility, to nourishment, tamed and wild.  The garden itself has many antecedents in colonial culture as a form of classification and authority over nature, and this site is seen as the creation of an environment where there will be a more stimulating dialogue with the built environment and the natural. There are a number of mundane infrastructural and environmental benefits, such as the subsequent simplicity and minimal impact to access requirements.

The memorial learning center through its relocation has a greater symbolic function, and gives improved reverence to her role in the world.  The site strategy seeks to blur and equally surface abstract relationships to birth, dispossession and entrapment, the disproportionate power relationship between herself and the supposedly enlightened world, but also acknowledges her burden as torch and symbol of Africa, and womanhood in the face of aggression and overwhelming circumstance.  The intervention is one of the social imaginary, and exploring the limitations of how a new reality can be presented and interpreted to the world at large.