Fantasies of the exotic Far East have shaped the performing and visual arts of America from the beginning of the country. Traveling circuses, exotic travelers in their own right, embraced the undeniable draw of the people and cultures of Asia, including exotic “Oriental” attractions and spectacles by the mid-nineteenth century.
Hindu snake charmers, Japanese strongmen, and Chinese strongmen were among the types of performers imported to entertain American audiences with both their skill and their foreignness. In addition to the performers, many circuses created productions around tales of the “Far East” like 101 Arabian Nights and Aladdin. The shows capitalized on every opportunity to promote the exotic quality of Asia. Explore how stereotypes and fantasies of Asia played to American audiences under the big top through lithographs printed to advertise American circuses from the last quarter of the 19th century through the first half of the 20th century.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.