Mortti Saarnia’s exhibition The Allergic Cowboy is a story of a man who betrays his manhood and becomes an icon in the Finnish countryside of the 1950s. The cowboy is an agricultural worker who is allergic to horses. He is an admirer of the Marlboro cigarette ads and a homosexual doing his best to protect his fragile masculinity in a time called “the darkest decade of LGBTQ+ Finland”.
Despite his severe allergy to horses, the cowboy refuses to give up his obsessive, socially accepted image of a man. He strives towards it so exhaustively that his fetishizing of masculinity ends up revealing his otherness. The character of the allergic cowboy aims to serve as a critical view of male identity but also as a link between traditional and postmodern masculinity.
By depicting life in the Finnish countryside of the 1950s through camp and a non-hypermasculine narrative, Saarnia aims to offer the viewer more content on how art examines our national identity. And by doing so, this eccentric character manages to break the standard visual conventions of masculinity.
The exhibition consists of framed photographs as well as printed images and a large sized embroidery. Screws and other metal parts have also been used as materials for the works. In addition, Saarnia works with staged self-portraits and childhood album photos.
The Allergic Cowboy is Saarnia’s first solo exhibition, previously shown in Kunsthalle Turku and Art Center Mältinranta Tampere in 2022.
Mortti Saarnia (1990) is a Helsinki-based photographer and artist whose work often explores the fine line between the media and personal identity. Saarnia draws inspiration from stories, gender studies, and his personal experience of the world. As an artist, Saarnia is focused on theory and obsessed with popular culture. He received his bachelor’s degree from the Turku Arts Academy in 2016 and graduated with a Master of Arts (Art and Design) from Aalto University in 2020.
Stylist and photography assistant for Allergic cowboy: Riina Koljonen.
The exhibition has been supported by the Arts Promotion Centre (Taike) and Finnish Cultural Foundation.
The Allergic Cowboy
3.–26. March 2023