Over the past year, we have been working to support the newly opened ‘Pirates’ exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, Cornwall. Our goal with this collaboration was to bring a queer perspective to this fascinating period of history.
LGBTQ+ pirates are hard to pin down. When discussing historical sexuality, the burden of proof is often used as a gatekeeping tool to perpetuate the ‘traditional’ narrative of history. While it’s true that we may never know the exact details of a historical figure’s sexuality or gender identity, it is undeniable that queer pirates existed: Anne Bonny, Mary Read and Jack Rackham to name a few, as well as many others whose names and lives we know little about.
We wanted to shine a spotlight on these ‘forgotten’ pirates in the exhibition, as well as the queer semiotics of piracy itself — so we reached out to local artist Ica Niemz, whose driftwood sculpture (built from wood collected on Cornish beaches) elegantly captures the idea of these ‘submerged’ stories being dredged to the surface and into the light.
We ran a number of outreach events at Cornwall Pride 2022 while preparing for the exhibition where we asked the local community to share their thoughts on pirates and take part in our community art piece. Additionally, the museum invited a paid group of LGBTQ+ people to an internal workshop to respond to the exhibition design, chat to the curators about words and views for panel writing, and create art on pieces of Cornish driftwood that would later make up Ica Niemz’s installation ‘Veronica’.
Queer Kernow also acted as a sensitivity reader for the museum, offering comments on panel content.