Is it a man or a woman?

Pedro Meyer’s fascination for nudes, hermaphrodites and transvestites

Brazilian artist Pedro Meyer doesn't just paint nude women. With his painting-installation “Transvestite Bathroom” he plays with the notions of seduction and strangeness.

The Rio de Janeiro pavilion opens on 12 December at 20:00 hrs at the final opening party of the Amsterdam Biennale 2009.


Curator Pedro Meyer in pink Toilet - Taken inside Rio de Janeiro Pavilion at Amsterdam Biennale 2009 Raphael Rehbach

With: Pedro Meyer

Pedro Meyer, a small, dark-haired guy who has the looks of an Italian but the relaxed attitude of somebody from below the equator, is working on his painting-installation "Transvestite Bathroom". On the door of the men's toilet of the exhibition space (Mediamatic Bank) he paints a human figure with breasts and a penis, and inside the toilet small drawings of kissing couples appear on the walls. And everything is made pink. Pedro works all night, otherwise the painting will not be finished the next afternoon.

Isn't it difficult to work alone the whole night? There is nobody who can keep you awake when you are sleepy.
'I think you never work alone, because you are always dealing with other works. There is a connection between the color and character of this work and that from another Brazilian artist. He says: "Turn on to red", and here it is pink. Mentally I am always with other people. First I make an artwork and then I remember or see a work that is similar. Artists are connected with others. You never do something totally new.'

Are there other artists you are connected to?
'I like to connect to some professors. Sometimes my work is not like their work, but I like to discuss my work with them. Internationally I like the work of Daniël Richter and Marlene Dumas.'

Are there certain themes you are attracted to?
'I did an exhibition in an important museum in Rio de Janeiro. I showed many transvestites and hermaphrodites. After this exhibition, when I painted a normal woman, they didn't recognize the woman anymore. But I do not only paint transvestites. I work with many themes.'

Has the transvestite-theme something to do with Rio de Janeiro and how you experience it?
'Yes, there is a relation between the material and the place. It's a manner to deal with the landscape. You use the material of the city you are working in.' He shows me a classical sculpture of the abdomen, with a sexy pantyhose that covers the sexual organs. 'For this work I went to Rome and I saw many hermaphrodites there. Some friends felt attracted to the panty, but when they looked more close they saw a penis and said "Whee, it's a hermaphrodite!"'

Do you have a special relation with this theme?
'I started to work with live models because I wanted to draw my girlfriends. Do a beautiful drawing so they will stay in love with me. You have to attract people. Seduction is very important in art. Transvestites are seductive and strange, and I like this. There is a tension between seduction and strangeness.'

Would it also be interesting to paint professional models?
'There's no strangeness in painting a normal woman. But even in my paintings of women, there's something strange in the form.'

Why do you show your work in the toilet?
'Somebody from Mediamatic saw my pictures and thought it was nice to do it in the toilet.'

Does it have anything to do with the relation between Brazil and eroticism?
'Stereotypes are important to connect people. They are things and persons we can talk about. You can use a stereotype and turn it into a critique.'

Opening of the Rio de Janeiro pavilion at the Standing Room Only Party on Saturday 12 December in Mediamatic Bank, Vijzelstraat 68. Doors open 8 pm.