I wonder if anyone else remembers when the circus came to town with a Unicorn? Like so many young girls born in the shadow of the rainbow-colored, psychedelic 70s and reared in the excessive 80s, I was obsessed with unicorns. I plastered them on my walls and read books about the best way to actually find one. I planned trips to upper Canada where unicorns were said to roam free in the meadows, and I willed myself towards a pure heart, so that if I did make it into unicorn territory, the wonderful creatures would be drawn to my innocence and would show themselves to me. My parents humored my obsession, which I’m sure they felt was the pinnacle of childlike idealism in action. And one day, my father came home with some good news. We were going to the circus. They had a unicorn.
The hype over this animal was immense. Posters emblazoned with the promise of “the world’s only captive unicorn” hung all over town and every little girl for miles clutched the hope in her heart that she could spy this wonderful beast and be reassured that true beauty and kindness ruled in the world. When the day of the circus finally arrived, I dressed in my best unicorn-friendly outfit and set out. A showman knows to hold out on your best act until the final act, so we waited through elephants and clowns and trapeze artists in sparkling costumes who flung themselves from impossible heights. Finally, the moment arrived for the unicorn. I held my breath. Maybe it would notice me in the crowd. Maybe they would pick one lucky girl to be lofted astride the snowy white flanks. All my hopes about what might be possible bubbled up inside me as I sat with my cotton candy, my breath held so tightly in my chest I thought I would burst. Finally, life was all that it promised.
Or so I thought. But when the Ringmaster announced the only living unicorn a few moments later, what was led into the center ring was not the magnificent unicorns I’d always seen. No white steed with a horn of pure gold cantered into the auditorium. Instead, when the unicorn was revealed it was nothing more than an ordinary Billy goat with a dull horn in the center of its head. It lumbered into the ring and bleated. Unicorn indeed. This was no unicorn. It was just a regular old genetic anomaly of a none-too-charming animal. A freak. I was crushed.
As I got older, however, I began to appreciate the idea behind that unicorn. After all, in some ways we were all freaks, all in some way aberrant from a perfect nature. And it’s both fascinating and comforting that someone else might see magic in that difference. A new show at the Contemporary Arts Center surely does. Their latest show, Freak Parade, by Thomas Woodruff, reveals and revels in the inherent nobility of difference. The parade of characters flash one after another- the show features 34 large-scale drawings/paintings embellished with rhinestones accompanied by text – and perhaps will help us all find the beauty, the true magic, in the freakishly mundane.
Contemporary Arts Center
900 Camp St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
Gallery hours: Thursday through Sunday, 11am-4pm.
Gallery admission: $5/general, $3/students & seniors, FREE To CAC members.
For information, call (504) 528-3805