The Saartjie Project

Mar 28

How The Saartjie Project Ended Up on the Street. #EndSHWeek Reflections and Lessons.

By @jesssolomon

We are a home-grown performance ensemble made up of black women exploring and creating at the intersections of race, gender and power, intentionally and without apology. We create in community and perform on stages, at universities, in multi-purpose rooms, galleries and now …the street. We fiercely believe in the power of our narratives and those of our allies, so to co-sponsor Washington DC’s Anti-Street Harassment Week was a no-brainer (I give thanks for @mdotwrites exposing me to texts like Dr. Bernice Johnson’s Working in Coalition - it grounds me in the importance of this kind of work). It was deciding what we’d do as a co-sponsor that was the challenge.

After much discussion and sisterly debate about “what” we’d do, we decided to perform somewhere we’ve known Street Harassment to take place. There is power in the reclamation of spaces.

We crowdsourced a performance location and Gallery Place/ Chinatown - one of the busiest areas in the District - won hands down. (Adams Morgan and Georgetown were close contenders.)


As allies and supporters, it’s important that you understand the context of this “performance”. (Please note: I use that term loosely. Sometimes “performance” conjures up fancy notions like curtains and lights and seats and backstage.) At its essence, our performance was an output of a personal process. We sat around and asked ourselves, “Why are we doing this? Who are we doing this for? What does a world without Street Harassment look like? Feel like?” We talked about feeling safe enough to perform. “What if someone approached us? Touched us? What did we want spectators to walk away with? What would their call to action be?” We didn’t have all of the answers immediately and some came at the 11th hour, but we knew we had to know our truths, with all our guts, before we began shouting them on the corner of 7th and G Street.

Holding Space

We are still so grateful to the people who intentionally showed up on a rainy Saturday afternoon to witness and hold space for us on the street. Supporters who marked it in their calendar and invited their friends. We are still so grateful for those that weren’t there but were thinking about us. We are also still so grateful for those who had no idea that they’d become an important part of some bold magic happening on the street.

In front of the Verizon Center, Washington, DC 7th and G St.


Some Reflections from the Saartjie Crew

Shonda said,

 “… people stopped and shared their stories.  Young women seemed to appreciate that we were speaking about our lives in public.  And young men felt comfortable enough to jump in and assist!  I appreciated all of the people who included themselves even if that just meant bearing witness.”

Saartjie Project members experienced street harassment directly after our performance. Yup.

As Farah recounted,

“A man who observed our show twice walked up to me and Shonda to share what we initially thought to be feedback about our performance.  Instead, he told us that we didn’t have to dress like nuns and that people might be more attentive if we showed a little breast and thigh.   I felt anger rising up in me, but said “God bless you.  And I pray that one day, you won’t street harass women how you’re harassing us” and walked away from him.  The man continued to ramble and followed us until I made a scene and asked him to say the same thing to my husband who happened to be volunteering.

I questioned if the performance was effective—a man who looked engaged still doing exactly what we had been speaking against - to us directly! But I weighed his ignorance with the positive responses we received—those from a young man who helped us pass out brochures about Street Harassment and confessed that he’s been guilty of harassing women; an older woman who said that she’s still a victim of street harassment; and the teenage girls who nodded and said that they too have experienced street harassment.  I knew that I couldn’t let one person affect the importance of what we did. We started conversations and used art to address a social issue that was proven to not only be relevant and current, but personal.”

Margaux said,

" i love public spectacle and i enjoy teaching in nontraditional spaces.  being on the street and sharing truth was pretty moving and necessary… i am proud that we used our voices, loudly, to rain down some positivity. it was really fun to be on the street and see faces that i recognized and those that i did not, listening, learning and watching us claim space. i was hyped! performance is powerful and the personal is political.  i don’t remember not fighting back. i hope we inspired someone to start.

So now…

Anti-Street Harassment Week is over but our work isn’t. This experience/experiment taught us that we must continue to tell our stories, recognize the responsibility in being a bystander and that in the midst of fighting for justice someone who you think is a supporter may not be. And that teaching moments show up all the time…even when you’re performing on the street.

Next year, I envision performances like ours happening simultaneously all over the District, perhaps all over the planet! Imagine how powerful that would be.

(The Saartjie Project members (l to r) Farah Lawal, Shonda Goward, Jess Solomon and Margaux Delotte-Bennett. Tony (in the middle) is Farah’s Husband and long-time TSP supporter)

One last thing…

Some readers may be wondering about the origin of our name.

Saartjie Baartman was a South African woman taken from her homeland under false pretenses and crudely displayed in Europe from 1810 – 1815.  She was given the show name “Hottentot Venus”, locked in a cage for 11 hours a day, dressed in feathers and sheer clothing to “enhance” her pronounced buttocks and labeled as hypersexual and subhuman.  Her silhouette became in inspiration for the Victorian bustle worn by women of that time. Upon her death her body was dissected and publicly displayed in a museum in Paris until 1974. After much international political and social discourse over where Saartjie Baartman “belonged”, her remains were flown back to her homeland in May 2002 and laid to rest almost 200 years after she was taken to Europe. Our work revolves about bringing humanity to her life and the many paradoxes and crooked rooms we live in as black women.

Jan 04

freedom fighter.: asterisk* online magazine call for submissions! -


asterisk* is an online “women’s” fashion magazine, aimed at providing useful and truthful advice on relationships, sex, beauty, love, success, men(!), fashion and more! It has all the wonderful features found in any Cosmopolitan magazine for all of you Mademoiselles out there. It’s filled with…

Jan 02

Call for Contributions: Roots of Consciousness, Routes of Struggle: Youth Reimagine Racial, Gender, and Economic Justice

Call for Contributions - Roots of Consciousness, Routes of Struggle: Youth Reimagine Racial, Gender, and Economic Justice

Editors: Dorcas R. Gilmore and Molly Talcott

We invite original submissions from activists, artists, scholars, and visionaries of all ages to our anthology, Roots of Consciousness, Routes of Struggle: Youth Reimagine Racial, Gender, and Economic Justice. The collection’s central purpose is to explore, narrate, document, and understand the paths through which children and youth become active and committed participants in social movements, political struggles, and creative projects that seek to build racial, gender, and economic justice. We are particularly interested in the voices of youth and children telling their own stories.

·          Building alternative institutions, cultures, and practices (co-operatives, freedom schools, etc.)
·         Prison abolitionism and dismantling the prison-industrial complex
·         Reproductive and sexual justice
·         Immigrant rights and border justice
·         Native, rural, and urban struggles against displacement and gentrification
·         Disability rights, especially access to affordable health care
·         LGBTQ youth of color-led organizing
·         Educational equity and ending the school-to-prison pipeline
·         Public health and healing
·         Food justice
·         Environmental and climate justice
·         Organizing against police brutality and gang injunctions
·         Antiwar projects and counter-recruitment organizing
·         Antipoverty and/or welfare rights organizing projects
·         Union organizing and/or student-labor coalitions
·         Youth-led cultures of resistance, including music, art, media, and performance
·         Intergenerational dialogues and projects
·         Occupy/Decolonize movement participation
·         Political consciousness and activism in reactionary contexts, time periods, and places

Brief descriptions of submission (no more than 350 words) due on April 2, 2012.

Complete submissions due on June 30, 2012.

Word Limit: 6,000 words (including notes and references, if applicable) 
Format: Word document (for scholarly submissions with references, please use Chicago Style)

Email submissions and any questions with subject line “Submission” to and

Dec 29

Let’s Jam.

What is the Creative Lab?

“Lab” - n. a day long, open, creative workshop where we will experiment with the tools, methodologies and frameworks that have been core to The Saartjie Project’s creation and work over the last 3 years. 

And, um, Jam? 

"Jam" – v. to cross-pollinate with self-identified black women artists, cultural workers and community folk (you?!) to deepen, strengthen + dream up ways to create and perform collaboratively.

We can’t wait! But for now, save the date, 3.17.12, Washington, DC. Details to come. 

light + creativity,


Dec 27





(via missturman)

Black Women Playwrights Group presents…12Tweets@12Noon

From our Sisters at the Black Women Playwrights Group (BWPG)  

Join us for 12Tweets@12Noon (read on!)

Hello Dear Playwrights,

In April 2010, we decided to investigate digital media and held Linking Platforms: Theater and Digital Media in the 21st Century. As a result of that workshop, we partnered with Carnegie Mellon-s Entertainment Technology Center for a cyber narrative project. Please visit our website at to learn more about the workshop and the partnership with Carnegie Mellon.

The BWPG membership, inspired by the digital media conference, formed a committee to investigate how we could explore digital media. The result was a new project, 12Tweets@12Noon. It will be a series of 12 consecutive tweets that form an entire scene delivered via Twitter. The project-s goal is to build followers for the work of individual playwrights.

We invite you to send scenes and monologue for consideration for inclusion in the series. We encourage playwrights to draw scenes and monologues from their archives. It is a rich opportunity to introduce a wider audience to characters and observations that run the gamut of the human experience. Of course, you may write material tailored specifically for this format and venue. Please think of not only single scenes, but a series of scenes or monologues that could create a thematically linked 5-part series for a week of tweets.

You may send up to five (5) scenes and monologues you believe would hold their tone and feel when compressed into 12 lines. Please include a brief description of the play from which each entry comes and where it occurs in the play. You may send it in its original format. We will be working with a drama professor to edit the scenes and you will have final approval before it is tweeted.

If you choose to send a scene edited for twitter please note that the scene will be 12 lines, with each line 140 characters (including spaces). If selected, we reserve the right to edit the scene, and will seek your approval before it is tweeted.

This is a brand-new pilot project and we are excited! Our goal is to stockpile 40 scripts (two months of content @ 5 days a week) and to be ready to launch by mid-February 2012.

Your scene will appear with your name, the copyright symbol, and your twitter account (if you so desire). There is no monetary compensation, and all rights remain with the playwright for the edited version of the scene/monologue.

Please submit your scenes to by January 16th, 2012. Please include: -12Tweets@12Noon- in the subject line.

The Black Women Playwrights- Group (BWPG) is a service and advocacy group for women playwrights writing for the professional theater located in Washington, DC. The mission of BWPG is to support and promote the work of our members as well advocate on critical issues within the theater world. We are an institution that reflects and serves our community, gives voice and artistic haven to women who are writing their first play and those who have many honors and awards.

Happy Holidays!
The Black Women Playwrights- Group

Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, June Jordan, Lori Sharpe, and Audrey Edwards circa 1977 at a Black women’s writing group.

Gasp. Wow. #affirmation #brilliance #beauty #power

Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, June Jordan, Lori Sharpe, and Audrey Edwards circa 1977 at a Black women’s writing group.

Gasp. Wow. #affirmation #brilliance #beauty #power

(Source: msnydiaswaby, via iamdust)



(Source: theafroqueerizedbeekeeper)

Dec 09

Wangechi Mutu’s imprint on The Saartjie Project #30Americans

“Feminist Intervention” via Womanist Performance

(I just stumbled across this text from a contest that we were not chosen for but I feel like this should still be visible somewhere.)

Black women’s bodies are wrapped up in complex cultural, political and social subtexts. These elements lend themselves to our misidentity, misrepresentation and oftentimes our performative actions – self-modifying to “correct” far-reaching labels given without permission (shoutout to Melissa Harris-Perry and Sister Citizen).

Wangechi Mutu’s inspiration and process in exploring these complaxities has left an imprint on my theatre ensemble, The Saartjie Project.

As a cultural worker and performance artist I view art - specifically black women collaborative theatre and storytelling - as performative collage.

Humming by Wangechi Mutu

Much like Mutu uses collage and mixed media to cut, rearrange and remix African identity, beauty constructs, and sexual politics, The Saartjie Project creates new works/performance/stories based on these shared experiences and historical references.

Our namesake, Saartjie Baartman (pronounced Sar-key) was a 19th-century South African woman taken from her homeland and crudely displayed in Europe from 1810 – 1815. Under the show name “Hottentot Venus” she was dressed in feathers and sheer clothing to enhance her large buttocks and exoticism. Upon her death her body was dissected and publicly displayed in a museum in Paris until 1974. After much international political and social discourse over where she “belonged”, her remains were laid to rest in her homeland almost 200 years after she was taken away. Our work is birthed out of our desire to bring humanity to her life while drawing paralles to her experience.

Our first production, “Deconstructing the Myth of the Booty” placed the black female body as sight of both investigation and reverence.

We see Saartjie and ourselves in Mutu’s futuristic work, “Humming. It is validating, generative and necessary.

jess solomon

Dec 08

Venue Change! Undoing Racism introductory mini-workshop with People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond! #DC

(As a cultural worker this was one of the most transformative workshops I’ve participated in!)

Undoing Racism introductory mini-workshop with People’s Institute for
Survival and Beyond co-founder Ronald Chisom and Core Trainer Dr. Kimberly

Please take note and tell your friends and colleagues who may also be planning to attend

Due to the strong interest in this event we have relocated to a nearby space at G II Restaurant: 2632 Georgia Avenue NW (corner of Georgia and Fairmont).

We hope that you can come to this free session with two highly respected
anti-racist organizer-trainers and senior leaders of the People’s Institute
for Survival and Beyond.  This event will provide an introduction to the
work of the People’s Institute, the process that they use, and the vision
from which they operate.

Please invite friends and colleagues who feel the urgency to better
understand and to begin to undo racism in their communities and their
institutions and are interested in learning about the tools developed by
the People’s Institute.

We also encourage alumni from the workshop to attend to reconnect and
strategize about how we can continue to develop anti-racist organizing in
and around DC and Baltimore.

For more information email Bayard Love