Topsy Turvey

Site specific installation: high definition video with sound, sculpture, historical objects


McCallum & Tarry

Topsy Turvey is a performance piece that explores the duality between white and black, male and female, father-mother, past and present.

The inspiration for the piece comes from the artists discovery of topsy-turvy dolls, a folk toy from the nineteenth century. Authentic Topsy-Turvy dolls feature a black doll with a headscarf on one end and a white doll with an antebellum-style dress on the other end. The black doll could represent a maid, slave or servant and the white doll could represent the master's child or the mistress of the house. The ability of the dolls to flip-flop was advertised as “twinning” and accompanied by the popular slogan, “Turn me up / turn me back / first I’m white / then I’m black.” Thus the topsy-turvy doll can only be one color at a time.

Drawing on the performance of black and white in endless oscillation, the artist draw on their personal experiences to recall a time when American childhoods were overtly scripted in racial flip-flops.

Topsy Turvy was first shown at Maryland Art Place in Baltimore in 2010 as part of McCallum Tarry's first mid-career solo show, Bearing Witness: Work by Bradley McCallum & Jacqueline Tarry.


Legacies: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery

New York Historical Society, New York, NY