Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Witness the power of the Strongwoman Catgirl, the spectacle of the Lady Swordswallower! The carnival show is an almost lost form of entertainment. There's still the parade of the socially challenged on Ricki Lake, but that gets old. Why not have a taste of the real deal -- a down-and-dirty sideshow? At Colorado-based artist Pamela Joseph's Sideshow of the Absurd, you can marvel at an assortment of human curiosities without having to endure the smell of corndogs and diesel fumes.
The carnival sideshow may have fallen victim to the digital media explosion, but Joseph retrieves the guilty pleasure from personal experience. "My parents rented land for carnivals, and I remember the sideshow tents," says Joseph, creator of the comic book Pussy Marshmallow. "The so-called freaks had more pride and dignity than most people in the audience. But what prompted me to create this piece was a fascination with strong women in peril, like the smiling magician's assistant coming away unscathed."
The project, which was five years in the making, consists of colorful painted banners advertising Leda, the Swan Princess; the Jungle Cat Girl; and Shelly, the Human Tortoise, all evoking the spirit of Coney Island's sideshow tents. In the installation, the banners surround several large-scale sculptures, such as the Alien Fortune Teller, a computerized teller of the future; the Baby Wheel of Fortune (spin the wheel and discover your reproductive possibilities); and the Garden of Virgins, a small courtyard filled with lacquered Barbie Dolls. Joseph's installation does more than just trot out human oddities for the perusal of the mob. The sideshow subtly plays tag with issues of violence, domestication, reproduction, and equality and comments on the vulnerability of women. "I wanted a nonthreatening interactive environment; hence the carnival theme," Joseph says, "but I also wanted something a bit edgy that might make people think about what lurks behind the façade of absurdity. The sideshow is a form of public art, and what better way to bring a message to the people?"