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Quintessential Childhood: Showing Care in the Exhibition of the Dionnes

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This article explores issues of curation pertaining to the exhibition of the Dionne Quintuplets. Born in 1934 in a small town in Ontario, the Quints were taken from their family to become wards of the province and viewed by over 3 million people in a specially constructed ‘hospital’ that served as the tourist attraction Quintland. For nine years the Quints were presented as exemplars of modern childhood. Two framing discourses will be explored: on the one hand, the presentation of ‘care’ and, on the other, the inscription of the Quints within an emergent aesthetic of ‘cuteness’. This analysis seeks to address the question of what it means to show care, as well as how the presentation of the Dionnes as ‘cute’ children attempted to distinguish their display from contemporaneous freak shows. While the curation of the girls’ within a medicalized discourse sought to present ideologically ‘correct’ bodies and images of idealized childhood, the freak show impulse to make their bodies profitable for consumption was nevertheless sustained by the state’s involvement in their display.
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Keywords: Dionne Quintuplets; Quintland; care of children; consumer culture; freak show; history of childhood; human exhibition; living display; scientific motherhood

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: St. Jerome’s University in the University of Waterloo

Publication date: April 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Curatorial Studies is an international, peer-reviewed publication that explores the cultural functioning of curating and its relation to exhibitions, institutions, audiences, aesthetics and display culture. The journal takes a wide perspective in the inquiry into what constitutes "the curatorial." Curating has evolved considerably from the connoisseurship model of arranging objects to now encompass performative, virtual and interventionist strategies. While curating as a spatialized discourse of art objects remains important, the expanded cultural practice of curating not only produces exhibitions for audiences to view, but also plays a catalytic role in redefining aesthetic experience, framing cultural conditions in institutions and communities, and inquiring into constructions of knowledge and ideology.
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