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Sideshow Alley

Infamy, the macabre & the portrait

Daily from Saturday 5 December 2015 until Sunday 28 February 2016

Our Victorian forebears weren’t squeamish. And they weren’t all that prim, either. Sideshow Alley re-tells tales of criminal and institutional savagery in Australia’s colonial settlements and considers the tension between:

  • the idea of portraiture as a means to edify, refine and elevate the sensibility of the populace, and
  • the popular thirst for the lowbrow, the cheap, the tacky and the ghoulish in portraiture.

Sideshow Alley transports us to a time when crowds surged to see the laid-out bodies of outlaws, competing to tear out scraps of their hair and beards; and a photograph of a corseted matron, posed against a pillar no less rigid than she, might be stuck in the family album alongside a photograph of a defunct bushranger, propped up with gun in hand to menace the populace even in death. 

Sideshow Alley brings to life a time when lithographs, woodcuts and waxworks of men in their direst moments attracted just as much interest as the monumental representations of explorers and statesmen that set the official tone of the age.

49 portraits

1Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer. 2William Baker Ashton, First Governor of Adelaide Gaol, c. 1849 Henry H. Glover. 3The Bushranger Tragedy (from The Australasian Sketcher, 23 November 1878) an unknown artist. 4At the Pantechnetheca, Exhibition, Eastern Arcade, Dominick Sonsee, the smallest man in the world, c. 1880 William Burman. 5Chinese giant Chonkwicsee and companion, 1876 Arthur William Burman. 6Master Molteno, c. 1866 Townsend Duryea. 7William Francis King, 'The Flying Pieman', c. 1869 John Davis. 8Thomas Muir of Huntershill, 1838 John Kay.

Related people

Joanna Gilmour (curator)

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