Only A Stranger Can Bring Good Luck, Only A Known Man Can Hang
This series depicts Morris dancers from Bedfordshire in a 'paradise', painted and assembled by myself. While artist-in-residence at BCA Gallery I worked with the group over a number of months, learning about their relationships to the past and their motivations for dancing.
The men pictured in this series are wearing the traditional dress of Morris dancers, an ancient art usually associated with pagan fertility rites. Uniquely, these men from Bedford additionally dance in honour of their townsman John Bunyan, the celebrated writer of Pilgrim's Progress, who discouraged music and dance. They are strictly against women dancing Morris and believe this divisive stance is important to uphold for the sake of tradition.
The photographs allow us to study these men, for clues to their current and past alliances, and to judge how they slip between conforming to and confounding stereotypes. The addition of 'hooded' portraits, and the series title, refer to the need for disguise when men were prosecuted and hung for performing 'the Devil's dance'. In reference to more recent controversy, the covered heads and blacked up faces are reminiscent both of media images of terrorists and of more folkloric images of feared strangers. Usually dismissed as harmless fun, these portraits show Morris dancing as a far stranger social phenomenon that deserves closer attention.