From Degas Muse to Modern Aerialist: Exhibition Charts Black Women in Circus - CircusTalk

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From Degas Muse to Modern Aerialist: Exhibition Charts Black Women in Circus

Miss La La was the star of the show when Edgar Degas painted her in 1879 hanging by her teeth from the roof of the Cirque Fernando in Paris, but in 2018 she will share the spotlight with another young black aerialist, Blaze Tarsha, who had never heard of her nor had any idea of the long tradition of black performers in some of the most famous shows.

Tarsha, a performer with NoFit State circus, is creating a film to be shown beside the painting, which will travel on a rare loan from the National Gallery in London to Sheffield’s Weston Park Museum for an exhibition in July on the hidden history of female and black circus performers.

Tarsha’s circus career began when she mastered the unicycle in a week while hanging around bored as her mother, a professional chef, was cooking for a juggling convention. Both mother and daughter now tour with NoFit State.

Tarsha performs a spectacular aerial act in a suspended ring, while Miss La La’s show-stopping finale was slightly more eccentric. Although Degas portrayed her in a relatively conventional pose, her most famous trick – repeated when she and her troupe visited London – came when a bronze cannon was lifted into the air suspended from a strap held in her teeth while she hung from the trapeze.

“When I told her about Miss LaLa, Blaze said: ‘But I thought I was the only one,’” said Prof Vanessa Toulmin, the joint curator of the Circus! exhibition and founder of the National Fairground and Circus Archive at Sheffield University. “The history of black performers is there but it’s not always obvious. You have to look for it.”


Link to Full Article at The Guardian

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