This Immersive Circus Celebrates Misfits and Oddities: “Le cirque de la liberté” by Akshita Gandhi

2 min readMar 18, 2020

“Le cirque de la liberté” an immersive installation by Akshita Gandhi

D/Code 2020, March 7–8, 2020, Mumbai

For Immediate Release

During the 19th century in England and the United States, freak or sideshows were a popular form of entertainment. These sometimes traveling and always for-profit exhibitions presented people who were strange and bizarre, curiosities; sideshow performers were specially-abled, had mental or behavioral rarities, came from the colonies and were of other or of mixed race, had missing limbs, or, were ‘exotics’ animal-people, such as “The Snake Man”, and generally termed as freaks.

The freak show culture counteracted normalized conceptions of gender, race, sexual aberrance, ethnicity, and disability and substantially shifted the way American culture viewed unconventional bodies. The shows provided people who otherwise would have been excluded from the workforce with financial independence and a somewhat respectable career. However, there are two sides to this coin, showmen often exploited sideshow performers by overworking them or limiting their access to medical care for fear of uncovering their ‘mysterious’ ailments as medical conditions. Beginning in the 1890s, spurred by a rise in disability rights and as people began to travel thus becoming more aware of the world the shows were termed exploitative, the practice dwindled, erasing the public practice of elevating of other bodies.

Akshita Gandhi believes that real freedom is achieved when we are given the opportunity to fully embrace ourselves. The circus was a place where freaks, misfits, and nomadic outcasts were celebrated for being themselves due to their physical challenges. They found a place where they fit in able to create a respectful life. Gandhi’s lightboxes explore themes of freedom, censorship, and empowerment and are in Le cirque de la liberté exhibited in a textured interactive body immersive exhibition inspired by the sideshow. The showcase encourages viewers to celebrate their flaws and to think about presentation and becoming at a time when we, through social norms and various media, are constantly pressured to conform.

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