Rolf de Maré and Dmitri Sverbjev.
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11 June 2021 – 3 April 2022

Fags. Meeting-places in an age of forbiddance

The exhibition “Fags. Meeting-places in an Age of Forbiddance” was set in a growing Stockholm from the turn of the 20th century until 1944 when homosexual acts were decriminalised in Sweden.

How could homosexual men meet up at a time when same-sex sexual relationships were illegal in Sweden? Which places became havens for encounters between gay men?

"Only recently have we realised that our story is worth telling. In the past, things have been hidden away and made invisible."

– Jonas Gardell, author and co-producer.

The exhibition “Fags. Meeting-places in an Age of Forbiddance” depicted the time when love between people of the same sex was forbidden in Sweden, a ban that made meeting up difficult and sharing a life openly impossible. But how could a homosexual man nevertheless take a place in society and what were the prevailing views and attitudes at the time? The exhibition also provided an insight into how male homosexuality has made an impression in the fields of art, theatre and film. Many of the works produced by gay creators and artists are among our classics in the field of culture.

Photo: the Hallwyl Museum/SHM (Public Domain).

Meetings in the city

For a gay man, the possibilities of meeting up with like-minded people varied depending on social and economic status. The upper class had access to private rooms and could also employ their lovers in different roles to share their lives. They were also able to find havens in exclusive sanatoriums, among the social circles of artists, or by travelling to more open societies. Rolf de Maré, grandson of Wilhelmina von Hallwyl certainly had these opportunities and he was able to live as an openly gay person both in Sweden and abroad.

For others who lived in cramped conditions with no privacy or room of their own, potential meeting places were public toilets, parks, bathhouses and cafés. A new subculture emerged in Stockholm's neighbourhoods.

Graffiti and means of contact

In the early 20th century in Stockholm, public toilets became an important contact area for gay men. Some toilets were better known than others, for example, the one by the Vasabron bridge. This facility was also known as "The Last Attempt". The toilets were also, quite literally, graffiti boards where visitors could scribble comments and personal ads. The walls were also used to share experiences and give advice, sometimes warnings about dangerous men.

Photo: Stadsarkivet (Public Domain)

"Graffiti Books"

In his free time, Bengt Claudelin, a former museum worker at the Hallwyl Museum, made a systematic documentation of graffiti and personal ads in his "Graffiti Books" which have been preserved in the Hallwyl Museum's archives. The books were written between 1905 and 1932.

Photo: Stockholmskällan (Public Domain)

Photo: Jens Mohr, the Hallwyl Museum/SHM (CC BY).

Bilden visar målningen "I vårsolens glans, motiv från Djurgården" av Eugene Jansson. Foto: Ola Myrin, Hallwylska museet/SHM
Photo: Ola Myrin, the Hallwyl Museum/SHM (CC BY).

Collaboration partners

Fags. Meeting-places in an age of forbiddance was produced by the Hallwyl Museum together with, among others, Jonas Gardell, author, and Jon Voss, CEO of the magazine QX.

Header photo: Rolf de Maré och Dmitri Sverbjev, Dansmuseet

Book release in connection with the exhibition

The Hallwyl Museum has produced a new publication: Friendships – Rolf de Maré and his circle. The author is Erik Näslund and the book is sold in the museum shop and online.