In June 2021, M.A.D.S art gallery in Milan held an exhibition for PRIDE month with the theme of "coming out". I was asked to submit a piece of artwork that illustrates my journey to coming out and I created this piece called "Holding On". 

The piece was made to illustrate the early stage of coming out as transgender, where I was unsure about who would stick around for me or support my journey. The person on the ground represents my pre-transition self, holding onto and the image of their future (post transition) self. The glitch lines in the transgender flag colours, represent the fleeting hope of that future idea which kept me going in those moments of doubt. I was the only person I could guarantee that would stick around during my transition. 

Here is what they had to say:

Leo Mateus is a transgender and queer illustrator who devoted his creative research to the representation of the queer community in order to suffice the lack of its representation in the media. Leo's artworks put the human body in focus to address the social and political debate about sexual orientation and gender identity. In the "Coming Out" exhibition, held by M.A.D.S. Gallery, the artist shows “Holding On”: the illustration represents a nude couple in the act of holding on to each other.


At first glance they seem to be two different individuals and in a way they are: on the surface they have different gender attributes, but what distinguishes them the most is their opposite attitudes. The sitting figure comes out from a curled, fetal position, holding on and looking up towards the other. The standing figure stands tall with the eyes closed and grasps with confidence the other, despite not being totally in focus, still coming together in a final shape.


In this delicate, emotional artwork Leo framed a key moment of his own personal experience: the coming out as a transgender. “In that moment, I was the only person I could trust to stick around. I held onto the image I had of my future self to help me get through that period, until I became that person.” The composition guides the viewer's eye along a diagonal line, from the bottom left to the upper right of the image mirroring the artist's personal journey, the uplifting of the spirit and body, the transition from past to future, the acceptance of their identity.


Leo sapiently adopted two additional colours to give a 3D look to the standing figure: the distorted and shifted repetitions of its outline conveys the same movement and three-dimensionality of an anaglyph picture. The clean, black lines of the digital artwork emulate the cross hatching drawing technique of the fifteenth century while the figures' pose recalls the emphasis of the Classical artworks as well as of the ancient Greek artworks which presented distinct silhouettes on a plain background.


Contrary to the Classical pudica pose, in which the figures cover their nudity drawing the viewers' attention to their sexuality, the couple is totally exposed, both their bodies and souls are naked before the viewers' eyes during their symbolic exchange. Through his artwork Leo immortalised not only his personal growth as a transgender and a queer artist, but also the meaningful and overwhelming journey of self-acceptance shared within the queer community.