Many Norwegians worked at sea in the 1960s and 1970s, and we may think of the stereotypical Norwegian seaman as a masculine, heterosexual man. What was it like to be queer at sea in the 1960s and 1970s? What possibilities and limitations did queer seafarers face? Could they be open, or did they have to hide their sexual orientation? In the temporary exhibition “Queer at Sea” you will get some queer perspectives on life in the Norwegian Merchant Fleet.
Shipping provided people with a unique opportunity to travel and see large parts of the world. Norwegian ships transported goods between continents, and when the ships docked to load and unload, it was possible to explore the port cities. Most seafarers were young men. On a cargo ship, there might be around 40-50 employees, while there could be several hundred on a passenger ship.
On the ship, there was a close-knit environment where the boundaries between work and leisure, and between workplace and home, were broken down. In this tight male community - with little room for privacy - it was important to adapt to your shipmates, to blend in and find your place. Being queer in such an environment could pose many challenges and much resistance, but it could also provide opportunities.
The exhibition Queer at Sea is based on interviews with informants - seafarers - who sailed on Norwegian cargo and passenger ships between 1950 and 1980. 11 men, one woman, and one trans woman have shared their experiences with us. Some are queer, others are heterosexual. They talk about the ship as a home, the male community, silence and taboos related to sexuality, opposition, and opportunities.
How do you create an exhibition about queerness at sea? Normally, museums display objects, but this time we had to do it differently. The exhibition's main focus is on film and audio interviews where the seafarers tell their stories. In four zones - 1. A male dominated environment, 2. the ship as a home, 3. Opposition, and 4. Possibilities - we get glimpses of life on board through scenery, sound recordings, film clips, quotes, and short texts.
We recommend that you take your time in the exhibition and relax. Then it is very likely that you will leave Queer at Sea with new knowledge and insight!