Rolf och Dmitry som sitter och håller om varandra

Fags. Meeting-places in an Age of Forbiddance

June 11 2021 - March 31 2022

The exhibition “Fags. Meeting-places in an Age of Forbiddance” is 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. In many cases, letters have been burned and traces erased, and even history has been falsified. That is why an exhibition like “Fags. Meeting-places in an Age of Forbiddance” is so important," says Jonas Gardell, author and co-producer.

The exhibition “Fags. Meeting-places in an Age of Forbiddance” depicts 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 provides 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.

Byggnaden till Berns salonger och parken utanför
Photo: unknown photographer.

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 (founder of the Hallwyl Museum) 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.

Stockholmskarta med utmarkerade toaletter
Photo: Stockholm City Archives, map with suggestions for lavatory meeting places.

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.

Rosa bakgrund med klottertexten ring till Kalle i 648 hvare 4-7
Photo: montage from the "Graffiti Books".

The exhibition is displayed in five rooms in the museum's top-floor guest apartment.

Collaboration partners

Fags. Meeting-places in an Age of Forbiddance has been produced by Hallwyl Museum together with, among others, Jonas Gardell, author, and Jon Voss, CEO of the magazine QX.

Header picture: Rolf de Maré and Dmitri, Dansmuseet (the Dance Museum).