DESIRE FLOWS LIKE THE SEA – An LGTBIQ look at maritime heritage

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

‘The hypermasculine sailor as an iconic gay image’… work by Tom of Finland is on display at the exhibition. Photograph: Museu Marítim de Barcelona – Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection, ©1962 Tom of Finland Foundation

“One aspect of the history of sailing that is most commonly shrouded in silence is the sexuality of the men who spent days, months and even years aboard ships, confined to very small spaces where privacy was almost non-existent. 

The relations established on board, in terms of obedience, were governed by rules and hierarchies that were stricter than those on land. However, in a remote place, and without the presence of women, where men of different religions, ages and social strata all coexisted together, sexuality was also experienced in an easy, flexible manner. The bodies of the crew members needed and desired to make contact with each other. 

The aim of this exhibition is to take a look at the erotic, sexual and emotional relations that have taken place on ships over the centuries. For the Maritime Museum team, it also represents a further step in their determination to change the narrative of the institution and to make it more inclusive in terms of gender and sexual diversity.” –

A Jean-Paul Gaultier advertisement is shown at the Desire Flows Like the Sea exhibition at the Maritime Museum of Barcelona. Photograph: Museu Marítim de Barcelona

The exhibition includes several works that depict stories of homoeroticism including Carlos Motta’s film trilogy Nefandus. This work is composed of three video essays documenting the forced imposition of European epistemological categories during and after the conquest of the Americas. There are examples of the kitsch masculinity of the French artists Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard, as well as Jean Paul Gaultier’s use of homoerotic images of sailors in advertising campaigns. There is also reference to the work of the French novelist and playwright Jean Genet, whose Querelle of Brest was made into a film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1982.

“If there is homosexual love at sea it’s because it also exists on land,” the exhibition curator and historian Víctor Ramírez Tur said at the launch. “But the covering up, secrecy and hostility that surrounds the life of homosexual mariners haven’t disappeared.”

Discover this exhibition on view at the Museu Maritim Barcelona until the 11th of November 2021.



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