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Queer sea shanties take over British Art Show 9

Plymouth-based artist Rhys Morgan responds to British Art Show 9 with sea shanties rewritten by the LGBTQIA+ community

Plymouth-based queer interdisciplinary artist Rhys Morgan’s new series of performances, ‘Seaweed in the Fruit Locker’, has been commissioned as part of MIRROR’s Give & Takeover programme to coincide with Oliver Beer’s work for British Art Show 9 (BAS9) in MIRROR at Arts University Plymouth.

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‘Seaweed in the Fruit Locker’ will be performed by an LGBTQIA+ sea shanty choir formed by Rhys to explore collective performance in marginalised communities through the tradition of shanty singing. Over recent months, the choir have used their combined lived experience to rework existing shanties and inspire new ones, continuing the tradition of these folks songs being adapted time and again through generations.

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The choir led by Rhys Morgan (far left) performing at the British Art Show 9 symposium on November 11. Photo by Dom Moore.

Currently undertaking an MFA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths, London, Rhys’ work explores queerness as an operative in everyday experience and the expectations, possibilities and limitations of how this is expressed. As a queer person who grew up in a rural, coastal village, Rhys has always found shanties (which have their roots as worker songs, performed by ‘burly’ men) inaccessible yet still intriguing. Despite the countless accounts of queerness within seafaring communities, such as the same sex marriages (or matelage) which were common amongst pirates during the 17th and 18th centuries, and literary accounts (including Moby Dick, Billy Budd and Querell); the queer community has been largely ignored and hidden. This work seeks to reclaim a space for queer people within this context, through coming together with others to celebrate their identity and proudly present their own shanty songs.

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The choir performing. Photo by Dom Moore.

Rhys Morgan said: “It may seem like LGBTQIA+ people have increasing visibility, but anachronistic and oppressive attitudes are still pervasive on a local and global scale. Creating more space for queer bodies in our folk traditions offers an exciting opportunity to reassess what is important to us now and represent a long queer heritage which has been there but not had the prominence it could have. This is also a new avenue for my practice which allows me to work with people in my community to explore and create something that helps share the viewpoint of our experiences together. ”

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The choir being led by Rhys Morgan (foreground). Photo by Dom Moore.

The choir will perform a set of new and updated sea shanties in other venues across Plymouth. The choir had their first performance during the British Art Show 9 symposium, ‘Tactics for Togetherness’, held at the Jill Craigie cinema on November 11. Rhys and the choir then performed their queer sea shanties at Minerva Inn, Plymouth’s oldest public house, on 19 November with a performance and Q&A session being held at Plymouth Arts Cinema on 15 December.

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Photo by Dom Moore

Hannah Rose, Curator at MIRROR said: “I have loved working with Rhys to support the development of this new work. Rhys has been hugely ambitious and brought an amazing group of people together to be a part of it. For MIRROR, this commission series has been super exciting, enabling us to work with artists in new ways and hopefully really supporting each of them to make an important step in their practices. I can’t wait to hear the choir perform!”

The Give & Takeover commission series encourages artists to respond to exhibitions presented by MIRROR. Give & Takeover projects can take any form, with the only restriction being that they must not disturb the exhibition they are responding to and intervening in. The series has been funded by Arts Council England with the support of National Lottery players.

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Rhys Morgan. Photo by Fotonow.

British Art Show 9 is delivered in partnership with Plymouth Culture and is being shown across four venues, MIRROR at Arts University Plymouth, The Box, KARST and The Levinsky Gallery at the University of Plymouth until 23 December 2022. MIRROR is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 2pm and closed on Sundays. It is free to visit MIRROR.