‘Iconic Gay Image’: The History of Sailors and Sex Explored in Barcelona Exhibition | Exhibitions

A new exhibition at the Maritime Museum of Barcelona seeks to tell the story of the romantic and sexual reality of the men who spend their lives at sea.

El desig és fluid tan com la mar (Desire Flows Like the Sea) aims to evoke the life of men living isolated but close together and whose intimate life was once clandestine by necessity because homosexuality was and is, in many places still, considered both as a sin and a capital. offense.

Some of these relationships were exploitative, as children as young as eight were recruited as cabin boys, but the limited documentation that exists also describes many consensual relationships among the crew members.

“The hypermasculine sailor as an iconic gay image” … the work of Tom of Finland is on display at the exhibition. Photography: Museu Marítim de Barcelona

There is also a discussion on seamanship, a form of same-sex marriage between pirates that emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries on the Caribbean island of Tortuga that allowed signers to inherit from each other.

The second part of the exhibition looks at the creation of the hypermasculine sailor as an iconic gay image, notably in the homoerotic work of artist Touko Valio Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland.

There are examples of the kitsch masculinity of French artists Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard, as well as Jean Paul Gaultier’s use of homoerotic images of sailors in advertising campaigns.

Reference is also made to the work of French novelist and playwright Jean Genet, whose Querelle de Brest was adapted for film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1982.

“If there is homosexual love at sea, it is because it also exists on land,” said exhibition curator and historian Víctor Ramírez Tur at the launch. “But the cover-up, secrecy and hostility that surround the lives of gay seafarers has not gone away.”

The exhibition is open until November 11, 2021.

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