Sara Baartman, a South African Khoisan woman, was captured as a slave in 1810 and shipped to London where she was displayed as a scientific curiosity to audiences around Europe, where she died.
As a result of an international campaign by President Nelson Mandela, Sara’s remains were finally returned and laid to rest in 2002 at her birthplace near the Gamtoos River Valley in the Eastern Cape.
The Sara Baartman Memorial Centre, located opposite the burial site, will serve to commemorate her life, and to symbolise the reaffirmation of a culture of human rights, the dignity of women, and the dignity of the marginalised Khoisan people. Our brief was to design a memorial museum that sensitively tells Sara’s story, accurately reflects the Khoisan culture and entices visitors to experience the Khoisan’s mythologies and world view.
Moving away from the traditionally introverted museum box, the centre is designed as a series of gardens interwoven with the surrounding landscape, separated by tall rock walls. The centre is designed as part of the landscape, to reflect the Khoisan people’s close connection to the earth and their awareness of the natural universe.
The tall rock walls follow the curving topographical contours of the site, tracing a reference to the rock formation and canyons where many Khoisan rock paintings are found. Visitors follow a journey through the rock canyons and lush gardens which are partly exposed to the elements. This was deliberately designed so that visitors can experience the open space and night sky which was Sara Barman’s world before her captivity.
The Memorial Centre’s primitive design highlights the Khoisan people’s prehistoric hunter-gatherer existence, evoking powerful and mystical images of other sacred places such as Stonehenge and the Mayan ruins.