Meet Toni-Lee Sangastiano, PhD, MFA

Toni-Lee Sangastiano
Headshot of Toni-Lee Sangastiano

Toni-Lee Sangastiano, PhD, MFA, is an internationally exhibiting multimedia artist and painter, scholar of the carnivalesque, professor of the practice, studio art and digital media, and digital media specialist at the Department of Art and Art History. Before coming to Georgetown, she was a professor at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont for over 16 years.

Sangastiano studied art at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she explored the history of sideshow banners, how to paint them and what their format was. Her mentors, Marie Roberts and Dick Zigun, introduced her to the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, whose new sideshow banner she painted, which was the basis for her senior honors thesis. As she writes on her sideshow banners website, her “banners have traveled, flown and delighted, (…) from Coney Island to Vermont, from Honolulu to London, from stages to galleries and museums and as seen in documentaries or television series such as Inked”.

Her doctoral studies in Visual Arts: Philosophy, Aesthetics and Art Theory at the Institute for Doctoral Studiesin the Visual Arts (IDSVA) were a critical expansion of her research about the sideshow and theories of the body, which added theoretical depth to her visual art and scholarship, and were a life changing experience for appreciating the world through a holistic view.

As a scholar of art theory, history and aesthetics, she questions the construction of notions of normality, its origin, evolution and how it has influenced our current moment; considering that things that were acceptable previously are no longer acceptable now and and things that are acceptable to us now are probably going to fall into the same category a few decades from now. Sangastiano is also interested in sideshow performers’ self-agency, and how they use it as a platform to confront stigma and stereotypes, and advocate for rights, in terms of race, ability, gender, equality and equity in society in an entertaining traditional form of sideshow.

She has a holistic view of the body, healing, and care of the self that she brings to her scholarship, artistic work and teaching, incorporating calm and meditation to her classroom through music, imagery and livestream videos that increase student creativity and focus. She has also been a guest lecturer in the Methods in the Medical Humanities course, where she led a discussion on the use of the body, rituals and death in art history, while inviting students to look at anatomical sketches and historical lithographs, and sketch skeletons.

Her art has been presented in different national and international venues, in solo and group exhibits and sideshows, and is part of the Robert A. Facchina Italian American Museum of Washington DC (IAMDC) the permanent collection. More information on her work and her writing can be found on her personal website.

Featured media, scholarship, and events

Insider/Outsider: The Anatomy of Identity Exhibition

December 4th, 2023

Professor Langley and Professor Sangastiano’s students in their class Insider/Outsider: The Anatomy of Identity hung their work on Thursday evening in the Ellipsis Gallery (Walsh Building 2nd…

Watercolor painting of Olive Groves

Dr. Toni-Lee Sangastiano’s Paintings on Display in the Permanent Collection Gallery of the Robert A. Facchina Italian American Museum of Washington DC (IAMDC)

September 25th, 2021

On September 25, 2021, The Robert A. Facchina Italian American Museum of Washington DC (IAMDC) hosted a reception for IAMDC artists. Dr. Toni-Lee Sangastiano’s paintings are on display in the permanent collection gallery of the museum and this collection celebrates the contributions of Italian and Italian-American artists throughout DC from the birth of our nation’s capital into the present.…

Words: Sideshow, Freak Show, Circus short film opening

Words: Sideshow, Freak Show, Circus

July 27th, 2021

In this short silent film, Toni-Lee Sangastiano presents media headlines that employ the words “freak show, sideshow, and circus” as negative metaphors in politics and business, based on selected data from daily Google Alerts for those keywords, between 2016 and 2021.…

Toni Lee Sangastiano presenting her work at the Circus 2021 adaptations and possibilities amid COVID-19 event

Toni-Lee Sangastiano’s Perspective on “Circus 2021: Adaptations and Possibilities amid COVID-19”

January 16th, 2021

Toni-Lee Sangastiano was one of the artists invited by the Circus and its Others (CaiO) project, to present her perspective on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impact circus around the world. In this video, Toni-Lee Sangastiano invites viewers to Washington. Her contribution was framed in the Circus 2021: Adaptations and Possibilities amid COVID-19 event, which took place on January 16, 2021.…