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WENDY ELLIOTT: Acadia’s Queer Mummer art exhibit offers glimpse of ‘pure fun’

Wendy Elliott. File
Wendy Elliott. File - SaltWire Network

My sadly departed newspapering colleague Brent Fox once told me, "Mummers, mimes and clowns scare the bejesus out of me, always have. I can't stand them! At least lefties and environmentalists and criminals can be rehabilitated, after a fashion - not so with clowns, mimes or mummers."

I would dearly love to know how Brent would have reacted to Lucas Morneau’s delightful exhibition on now at the Acadia University Art Gallery. It’s called The Queer Mummer.

I became fascinated with mummers back in the 1970s when Chris Brookes and the Newfoundland Mummers Troupe visited a puppetry festival in Wolfville. Their performance was organized by Mermaid Theatre and featured a huge puppet adorned with blown up pig bladders. Bizarre to say the least.

Brookes was keen on mummers’ plays as a communal Christmas tradition stretching back to medieval England. There was a time in probably two-thirds of Newfoundland villages when both men and women went mummering.

If you dress foolish with granny’s bra and cover your head with a doily or a blender cover to tromp door to door, there is a kind of freedom from who we are day to day and life’s responsibilities. It’s pure fun. I know because I’ve tried it.

Morneau told the good-sized crowd that turned out for his talk last week that he’s always loved dressing up. A costume allows you to escape, he says, and become someone else.

Growing up in Corner Brook, he and his three cousins were taught to knit by their grandmother. “With four loud kids in the house, my Nan found it hard at times to get work done around the house.”

Later studying fire arts at Memorial University’s Grenfell Campus, a fibre artist named Barb Hunt opened up a whole new world of textiles for Morneau. He learned to make elaborate costumes because he says he was “really into cosplay.”  Cosplay is the practice of dressing up like a character from a movie, book or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of manga and anime.

When Morneau was accepted into the University of Saskatchewan’s Master of Fine Arts program, he was comfortable coming out of the closet and before long he began performing in drag at a gay bar. He found the experience inspiring – and so were his trips to Value Village.

Morneau found himself crocheting balaclavas, fishnet shawls, thigh-highs gaiters, and garter belts. He also began to blend drag, which goes back to the ancient Greeks, with the mummering tradition in his home province.

“One is largely accepted by the broader public, whereas one has been deemed immoral by many because of its queerness. I just see them as two similar forms of theatre.”

Before long he created the corset-wearing Queer Mummer. His alter ego has a number of incarnations. One wears a black crocheted tentacle dress that has vestiges of Ursula the Sea Witch and another is based on the late drag queen Divine, with black veils that reference Old Hag myths.

I appreciated his character called Lumber Jackoff, which is attired in plaid shirts. The tartan look mixes well with a full head mask. Unlike most drag queens, Morneau, who now is teaching photography at Grenfell, never goes for big hair. This practical Newfie says his feet are too big to wear high heels and “what’s more fashionable than crocs?”

His Froot Loop costume is remarkable. The red crochet dress took him a month and a half to create and he says, “I feel glamourous in it.”

The exhibition at Acadia also includes large format, nearly life size, portraits of Morneau dressed in his mummering garb. Taken while he was performing, sometimes they are blurry, but to great effect as he brandishes the traditional ‘ugly sticks.’

The next challenge he has set himself is to gear up for a tableau series with multiple queer mummers. I do hope that will be an exhibition that brings Morneau back to Acadia. Meanwhile, The Queer Mummer is on display until April 14. Go see it.

Former Advertiser and Register report Wendy Elliott lives in Wolfville.

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