Developed in 18th century Europe and further promoted by PT Barnum in his traveling "Museum, Menagerie, and Circus", the visuals and spirit of the carnival side show served as inspiration for May's assignment exhibition. To situate everyone within the month's theme, we wanted to offer some context.
Early side show attractions included so-called "freaks", who were typically men and women born with physical deformities or illnesses that affected their outward appearance. Dwarfism, missing or vestigial limbs, hypertrichosis, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, elephantiasis, and other disorders were put on display before they were even fully understood by the public, who were fascinated by the strange appearances of their bearers. Often people covered in tattoos, fire-breathers, sword-swallowers, magicians, and other performers were also part of the show. Barnum and other show managers weren't above faking it, either, with supposed mermaid corpses and mislabeled "exotic" animals put on display in museum-like exhibits.
As time passed, increasing knowledge of varying physical maladies and birth defects as well as the rise of television as a common diversion led to the decline of the side show as popular entertainment. But its colorful and sensationalistic imagery as well as its evocation of a certain era continues to reside in the public consciousness, and UFG's current exhibit includes a number of works that directly reference that feeling.
"Side Show" runs through May 26, 2013, so stop by this weekend to catch some fantastical works of art!