“She’s always smiling and she always survives.”
American multimedia artist Pamela Joseph is an issue driven artist with women and their place in society being a major concern. As she told The Catalyst Newspaper in 2013 “My work has long been associated with women and social commentary.”
And it is the issue that lies at the heart of her highly successful multimedia installation Sideshow of the Absurd. Conceived in 1998, “The installation is a contemporary representation of a carnival, which celebrates the power of women while simultaneously exploring the violence behind facades, and the element of fate and chance in our lives.” It premiered at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in 2001 and since then has been shown in part or in whole at ten museums and/or galleries, over the ensuing years, throughout the United States. The section “Hundred Headless Women” is currently on show as part of a group exhibition at Yale University.
Based upon her memories of traveling circuses and the sideshows she saw when showing on the land they rented from her grandparents, Joseph recalls “I remember going into the sideshows and seeing people that were different than me: they were called Freaks. As a child, being in an audience, looking up at these individuals, I was so impressed by their dignity and stature. I thought they were so much more powerful than the people around me.”
Imbued with this cultural history Joseph reveled in its recreation, as she has said “the conceit of creating numerous exhibits gave me the opportunity not only to explore ideas but also to use a wide variety of materials in the process, something that I especially enjoy.”
But there is more to Joseph’s oeuvre than her carnival installation. Like her 2009 exhibition Wunderlust in which Joseph appropriated works from the who’s who of 19th and 20th Century painters and infused them with images from comic books to create a critique of capitalism and its inability “to fulfill our dreams and live the lives we desire.”
And then there is her current exhibition Censored. Inspired by Iran’s masking of nudity's “naughty bits” in publications about historical art works and Saudi Arabia’s removal of women from IKEA advertisements, Joseph has recreated the works following these precepts. About which Joseph told The Aspen Times “It’s so timely now, if you think about Charlie Hebdo and current issues surrounding censorship.”
As Joseph continues to explore the ideas that underpin her gender related issues, she has mused “I first began the Sideshow of the Absurd 15 years ago. The show has grown as it travels, with new pieces being added at most venues. What interests me is that the ideas that I developed then are still relevant to me today. I had tried to focus on universal concepts, and I fear that, as a society, we still have not resolved the issues that the show presents.”
Her current exhibition Censored: New Paintings by Pamela Joseph is on show at New York’s Francis M Newman Fine Art until the 22nd of May.