Exhibit explores performers of color in U.S. circus
An art exhibit by Radiance Campbell featuring photographs of performers of color in a modern U.S. circus will be on display at Illinois State University’s Rachel Cooper Gallery from February 25 until the end of the summer 2020. The exhibit’s opening and reception will take place at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 25, in the Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) offices in Rachel Cooper Hall.
The exhibit, Performing Color: Participatory and Community-Based Research in a Modern U.S. Circus, investigates the experience of performers of color in a modern U.S. circus and is primarily concerned with granting performers of color control over telling their own story. This show centers the voices and experiences of people of color and encourages people to engage with the art and consider how the underlying themes of agency and resistance for performers of color is connected to the WGS curriculum.
“Oftentimes dominant cultural groups speak over us or speak for us, as if we can’t speak for ourselves,” said Campbell, a senior with a sociology major and minors in women’s and gender studies and Latin American/Latinx studies. “By contrast, this exhibit and research project model what true diversity and inclusion can look like: people of color are granted the right to define themselves and their own experiences, given control over their own narrative, and given power to make decisions about themselves and their community.”
Campbell’s study produces visual research that centers participants’ perspectives through photo voice, or participatory photo, which is a visual research methodology that uses participant-generated photos as data. Participants were given disposable cameras and encouraged to photograph their own worlds, identifying the assets and challenges of their circus community.
“I want people to understand that when we critique our world, it doesn’t mean that we don’t love our world,” said Campbell. “Part of our love for our organization, our campus, our country is our ability to simultaneously enjoy it and critique it, dreaming better for it.”
Campbell speaks of the impact of spectatorship on performers of color and the importance of representing performers of color. As such, Performing Color: Participatory and Community-Based Research in a Modern U.S. Circus will include participant-generated photos, text from participant interviews, collaborative art pieces, a feature from ISU’s Special Collections: Circus & Allied Arts, participant quotes set to music by Brandon Campbell of The Clinic, and an “exit survey” in which viewers can participate.