Making Trans Joy Visible

a lit up stage in the Villa Vida Café with paintings on the wall

TIN* Artists (trans, inter, nonbinary) currently take centre stage at Villa Vida Café in Vienna´s 5th district. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the exhibition entitled “Visible!”, which was organised on the occasion of the Trans Day of Visibility to offer trans, inter*, and non-binary artists an opportunity to present their work.

The event was a celebration of the diversity and creativity of the transgender community, and it brought together people to appreciate the work of these talented artists. The exhibition featured a variety of different art forms, including drawing, prints, painting, sculpture, and during the open mic event on opening day, several spoken word artists performed or read their texts.

I wonder if people could feel softer if the armor they wear (their suits) would be soft, knitted, fragile. … Feel free to touch what is here, feel free to try on the suit.


I was invited to the event by the artist Erik Pekny, who works with digital and mixed media illustrations to create fabulous storyboards for comic and media projects for work, but also uses watercolours and inks in artworks he creates for himself. In a recent project, he illustrated one of his own poems, love (like) us, which you can find in his Instagram gallery (or better yet buy in the form of a printed booklet).

Erik Pekny (he/him) in front of some of his artworks

The Villa Vida Café was founded in 2019, located in what has been known as the Rosa Lila Villa since 1982, when a group of LGBTQ+ activists were looking for a safe space to socialize and connect. The villa quickly became a popular spot for the LGBTQ+ community in Vienna, and it has played an important role in the city’s LGBTQ+ history. From the early days, the Villa was a place where the community could come to be themselves without fear of discrimination, and find support and resources.

Transgender Day of Visibility is celebrated every year on 31st March, after it was started in 2009 by Rachel Crandall-Crocker, a transgender activist from Michigan. It is meant as a day to highlight the positives and provide support to transgender people, rather than to focus on the violence the members of this community are unfortunately often subjected to. Visibility is important for the transgender community because it helps to challenge stereotypes and prejudice. There is quite a lot of ignorance around on the subject – and I do not exempt myself, I have a lot to learn too. By being visible, transgender people and their allies can help to create a world where everyone is accepted and respected, regardless of their gender identity. But it must also be noted that especially in recent years, visibility comes with an ever increasing risk to trans people, in a climate that is growing ever more hostile.

What I have learned is that gender identity is a complex thing. It is important to note that gender identity is a spectrum, and there is no one right way to be. Even if you do not fully understand it, it is important to respect the gender identity of others, and to ask with which pronoun they like to be referred to and how you can be supportive. And that is not so complicated.

Georgy, who was key to organising this exhibition

I had a chance to speak to a few of the artists present. I was especially touched by what Mees, a young queer artist from Arnhem, Netherlands, told me about why he made his knitted suit, an artwork called “Armor (the makings of a gentler man). The suit is a challenge to notions of masculinity as something harsh and hard, perceptions of men in suits being in a sort of armor. “What we wear is what we become while we wear it,” says Mees. But by creating a soft suit for men from knitwear, Mees was thinking about what manhood could mean, if it could be something soft too. And in the remains of the fabric, the cut-outs, he saw himself, a man without a body, but all the makings of a man right there, “nice and soft”. And is this not also what a man should be? We also talked a bit about the, as it turns out, coincidental placement of his artwork among the bright light strings wrapped around the trees, which gives quite a nice effect and, I feel, also has some symbolism to it, of coming into the light from a difficult and perhaps darker period.

A young transgender man in a white corduroy suit in front of his artwork, a knitted grey and white striped suit, next to a tree wrapped in lights
Mees with his artwork, a soft suit he knitted on a hand-operated knitting machine

Mees also spoke on stage during the Open Mic session. It was his first ever Open Mic, reading his recent short story called The Mountain in my Throat, a piece that actually put a lump in my own throat.

Mees reading “A mountain in my throat

Alexander Zauner made a series of different torsos with linoleum prints. Each torso is labelled with a number, as the artist wants to make it clear that bodies do not signify gender identities.

Alex Zauner with two of his linoleum prints of torsos

Aurelia Theodora Mohl (@Aureelian), a nonbinary artist writes stories and draws. They moved from pencil drawings to digital drawing more than a year ago. Aurelia is also active on Youtube with the character Doctor Plague, and she is on Twitch.

Portrait of a transgender/nonbinary artist (she/they) in front of a glitter curtain, dressed in a red and black checkered shirt.
Aurelia (Aureelian / Auryartifex) at the exhibition opening at Villa Vida Café

There were many other interesting artworks on view, and I recommend going to see them and have a drink in the relaxed atmosphere of the Villa Vida Café while you are there.

There was also an open mic event, with several readings of poetry and texts that dealt with transgender and gender fluidity experiences. You can see some impressions from the stage performances in the slideshow below.

  • drag king Alice More Eric big Cl!t on stage
  • two artists on stage, one with makeup, the other with glasses, smiling

(The slideshow doesn´t seem to work on all devices, it works best on a desktop or laptop.)

For me, visiting the exhibition opening and hearing the artists talk about what moves them was a powerful and moving experience. Several of the artists had a lot to say about their experiences as transgender people, and it was clear that these were often very difficult. And so, many of the artworks also referenced the personal experiences of the artists.

The exhibition is an important way to help to raise awareness of transgender issues. I hope that other more “mainstream” galleries and venues will follow the Villa Vida lead and showcase the work of transgender artists.

If, like me, you feel like learning more about the transgender community, here are some helpful links that were recommended by @transgender_together:

Change Trans Peer Group Vienna 


Venib: Genderklage  und @venib_at

TransLifeLine Glossary of terms

Trans Hub Information for allies

(US) National Center for Transgender Equality – About

This exhibition is on view until 21 April 2023 at the Villa Vida Café. On the 21st there will be a Finissage and a big party. Allies welcome.

Artworks by Animal Bro (they/them) and Erik Pekny (he/him)

All photos © Karin Svadlenak-Gomez

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