AN EXHIBITION focusing on Up-Helly-A’ squads from the early 20th century will be on show in Da Gadderie at Shetland Museum from tomorrow until 8th February.
Men in Tights will highlight squads from 1905 to 1923 which made use of a favourite Up-Helly-A’ disguise – men dressed as women. Female dress has always been popular with Up-Helly-A’ squads, possibly as it provides brighter and more attractive alternatives to male costume.
The squads pictured cover a range of topics, including imperial or political subjects, like 1911’s “Who’d be Toffs?”, but most were whimsical, such as the “Fairy Princesses” of 1911. Historical themes were always popular as was national dress; the exhibition includes pictures of men in the Dutch, Swedish, and Chinese female national dress.
Squads were often topical. A hundred years ago the votes for women campaign was a hot topic and the Shetland women’s suffrage society had just formed. A squad in 1909 decided to perform a topical act, called “Suffragettes”, and besides their female attire they carried a banner with a dialect play on words to add a local flavour. Headlining their demand for equality and justice, the banner proclaimed “VOTES for WE-MEN”.
Something which comes across in the exhibition is the quality of many of the costumes, and the way in which many of the pictures are thoughtfully posed to fit with their act.
Museum curator of collections Ian Tait said: “The photographic archives contains many Up-Helly-A’ pictures on this theme and the ones on show are just small selection of the most picturesque. We have had great fun creating the exhibition, and high-lighting this aspect of Up-Helly-A’ which is still alive and well today.”
Dr Tait will also be providing further insight into this aspect of Up-Helly-A’ with a talk on 20th and 28th January at 1.15pm in Da Gadderie. Both the exhibition and talks are free.