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'Moving Spectacles' Photography Exhibit Showcases Peruvian Performers

Liese Ricketts uses her camera to document Peruvian family circus artists

EVANSTON, Ill. --- An acrobat applying makeup prior to performing and a woman fire-eater spouting flames are among the star attractions of “Moving Spectacles,” the Dittmar Memorial Gallery’s summer 2013 photography show on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus.

The large-scale images provide viewers with an intimate glimpse of the daily lives of Peru’s small nomadic family circus entertainers. Featuring the black-and-white photos of Chicago-based educator and award-winning photographer Liese Ricketts, the June 28 through Aug. 11 exhibition includes photos of itinerant street performers and schizophrenic Peruvian Independence Day parade participants.

The exhibition and an opening reception from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 30, are free and open to the public. The gallery is located on the first floor of Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive. 

Ricketts, who speaks fluent Spanish and has relatives in Peru, resided and worked in the country from 1971 to 1983. In 2010, she visited six circuses on the outskirts of Lima and took more than 90 photos with her Hasselblad and Rolleiflex cameras. A selection of these images will be featured at the Dittmar this summer.

Many of the families pictured are the direct descendants of circus performers who were born into this world of itinerant artists. Others depict their young children, who feed the circus animals and carry circus supplies when they are not in school. 

According to Ricketts, the family circuses are nomadic in part because the municipal security workers tear down their tents at night for fear that the nomadic circus families might lay claim to the land.

“These very poor family circuses come from a long line of performers who have done the same thing for generations,” said Ricketts, who hopes that her photographs foster respect for the circus performers. “I was moved by the dignity of their lives and their struggle to move forward.”

Ricketts, a fine arts teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, has had solo exhibitions in Peru, Sweden, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kansas, and has participated in group shows in the United States, Canada and Colombia.

For more information on Ricketts and her work, visit


From June 24 to Aug. 16, the Dittmar Gallery will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. For more information, visit

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