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From a Finnish perspective, the story of Tom of Finland lay hidden for a long time and those who had heard of him were certain the pseudonym didn’t actually have anything to do with their nation.When Ilppo Pohjola made the first Tom of Finland documentary in 1991, Laaksonen emerged as an aging gentleman, living at the corner of Lönnrotsgatan and Fredriksgatan in Helsinki, still busy drawing his own and others’ erotic fantasies. Finnish pop culture cognoscenti gave him the Puupää award in 1990, acknowledging his work as a prominent cartoonist.There is an enormous number of anecdotes, stories, symbols, readings, and connotations that surround the phenomenon that is Tom of Finland and the different layers of meaning make a traditional analysis of the images impossible.

The current presentation of Touko Laaksonen’s erotic images at Kunsthalle Helsinki expands the phenomenon into art discourse, where the images are lined up for review in a traditional exhibition format, curated as a retrospective art show.

The reception of Tom of Finland’s imagery in Finland is closely tied to the law against deviant sexual behavior that remained in place until quite recently.

While Sweden decriminalized homosexuality as early as 1944, that did not happen in Finland until 1971.

Homosexuality remained classified as a disease until 1981 and it was not until 1999 that the paragraph prohibiting incitement to homosexual behavior was stricken from Finnish law.

This lends Laaksonen’s images a strong historical draw and affirms their importance as social documents, both in terms of their design and existence.

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