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 a homosexual idolising the Marlboro ads and doing his best to protect his fragile masculinity in a time called “the darkest decade of LGBTQ+ Finland”.


Despite his severe horse allergy, the cowboy refuses to give up his obsessive views of masculinity. He strives to fulfil the universally accepted male image 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.


My goal for depicting life in the Finnish countryside of the 1950s through a campy and non-hypermasculine visual narrative is to offer more content for art examining our national identity. By gaining the space to be his full, tragicomic self, this eccentric character manages to break the routine visual conventions of masculinity.


The exhibition has been supported by the Arts Promotion Centre Finland.


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 empirical experience of the world. As an artist, Saarnia is focused on theory and obsessed with popular culture. He graduated as an artist from the Turku Arts Academy in 2016 and as a Master of Arts (Art and Design) from Aalto University in 2020. The Allergic Cowboy is Saarnia’s first solo exhibition.