Artistes Of Colour; Ethnic Diversity And Representation In The Victorian Circus is highly recommended for performing arts and ethnic history libraries alike, offering a solid study of Victorian-era circus makeup that probes the achievements of notable Victorian-era circus performers of color.
From African rope dancers and jugglers to Chinese and Japanese troupes, chapters cover family origins and history, offer extensive quotes from research and source materials, and provide many inspections of circus performing art history: “When you think of a juggler today you probably think of an individual, who by repeated practice and skill, can keep several objects in motion simultaneously; balls, clubs, and rings to the more extreme fire torches, knives, and even chain saws! But juggling as we recognise it is only a relatively modern discipline.”
This history nicely juxtaposes with racial reflections and insights that takes source material writings and analyzes them with an astute eye to outlining the intrinsic racial perceptions in white Victorian society. One example of this approach lies in this analysis of an 1809 journal passage describing the exploits and culture of Indian jugglers: “High praise for the Indian Jugglers, but tinged with British xenophobic patronisation. Of course the ‘natives’ were ignorant and superstitious. How could they be anything other – they were not British. There was an ever present tension between the dominant British social structure and the Indian underclass. The fascination with the exotic was juxtaposed with racial bigotry, underpinned as it was with a sense of imperial superiority. Yet there was the desire to bring these entertainers to Britain to present them to the public, to be exploited for profitable gain.”
These close inspections of source materials provide a foundation for understanding Victorian prejudices, performing arts history, and the intersections of prejudice and achievement that often layered observations with an intrinsic attitude about other races and cultures.
Fans of circus history as well as those interested in the presence, exploitation, and perception of performers of color in Victorian-era society will find much to appreciate in this well-detailed narration.
Black and white reproductions of advertising and illustrations from the times add visual embellishment key to understanding representations of these people, while the autobiographical sketches of selected key performers gathers much material about their individual histories and achievements.
Anyone interested in performing arts history, Victorian-era cultural interactions and relationships, and ethnic history examinations will find Artistes Of Colour a unique and powerful reference highly recommended for readers who want a scholarly yet spirited approach to circus history and ethnic issues.
Senior Editor, Midwest Book Review