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In ‘Sideshow,’ A Challenge To ‘Remember That Our Lives Are Absurd’

What's more than 10 feet tall, has the body of a woman, a cat tail and a soft round head? That would be 'Pussy Marshmallow,' the towering creation of artist Pamela Joseph. The imposing cat woman is part of her latest exhibit, “Sideshow of the Absurd.”

Standing in a carnival midway, the feline femme fatale holds Max, the world's largest house cat, over her head.

Credit Stephanie Cochran / Arts District
Arts District
"The Strongwoman Catgirl, Pussy Marshmallow," is the center piece of Pamela Joseph's exhibit at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Museum.

“I mean she’s strong, but you know she has a marshmallow head, so she’s soft and sweet and she’s vulnerable and that encompasses a lot of the sides of women,” explained Joseph. “I mean sure, we have to be strong, we have to be brave, but you know she does have that other aspect of being very sweet.”

Pussy Marshmallow is hardly alone among the 175 individual works of art in the exhibit at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center El Pomar Gallery.

There’s an Alien Fortuneteller dispensing a variety of free advice.

"I feel that you are worried about financial matters," she says as she peers into her crystal ball. "But I must tell you that you just need to reach out and not be afraid."

There's the torture museum where Pussy Marshmallow confronts deathly feats. Not absurd enough? How about a 12-foot tall lady sword swallower?

The midway Pamela Joseph created is interactive, filled with mechanical sculptures and sound installations that double as carnival games. Patrons are encouraged to use cranks and handles to activate music, lights and more.

“We have to remember that our lives are absurd and if we don’t have a sense of fun and wonderment at and laugh at our problems then it’s going to be a very long road,” Joseph said.

Credit Stephanie Cochran, Arts District intern
The Lady Swordswallower by artist Pamela Joseph is among numerous, large-scale mechanized sculptures in "Sideshow of the Absurd."

Upon first impression, the carnival atmosphere is humorous and fun. Joseph though is using it to introduce deeper concepts: The female role, illusion and reality, fate and chance, and violence behind facades.

The carnival atmosphere drew Victor Ruggeriero and his wife Laura Grogan, with their young daughter Lacy in tow, to the exhibit.

“It was something for [all] of us that wasn’t your normal everyday family-friendly event,” said Ruggeriero. “I think ‘family-friendly’ has taken some of the fun out of the old Wild West. You see that in a lot of resort towns that were crazy, wild towns and now they’re like amusement parks and Disneylands.

Given the female-centric nature of the work, Ruggeriero said he assumed it was created by a male artist.

“That’s interesting that it’s a woman, it makes me look at it a little differently for sure,” Ruggeriero said.

For Joseph, to challenge thought and conventionally held beliefs is the larger point of the exhibit.

“Difference is something you know, whether you know what your color is, what your nationality is, your sexual preference,” continued Joseph, “I mean people are different and just because we might not agree on certain issues doesn’t mean we can’t have a discussion about them and open the possibilities of communicating my viewpoint and your viewpoint.”

Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, RMPBS, and KUVO.

A native of Stamford, VT, I call(ed) the Berkshires of western Massachusetts my home. The Berkshires are a culturally rich area -- I’m talking pass the butter and heavy cream -- rich.
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