Bubulina – Colombia
Natalia Moreno Rodríguez describes “artivism” and shares the socioeconomic and ableist barriers that disabled artists encounter in Colombia.
Bubulina is my nom de guerre, a name I chose for myself because I was fascinated by the story of the original Bouboulina, a Greek woman who fought against the Ottoman Empire. She formed an army and stopped Greece from being colonised. I identify with her as a strong, determined woman. I was born with a physical disability and work as a specialist in communications, a performance artist and an activist supporting the rights of disabled people. I dedicate my life to raising awareness and increasing understanding about various types of oppression that I encounter such as patriarchy, ableism, and heteronormativity. I am currently living with my mother in a working-class neighbourhood of Bogotá, supported by a wide network of friends and allies.
Art-ivism is a form of expression and of Putting Up Resistance
I became an activist in 2007 after joining a human rights committee in the place where I lived. After finishing high school, I didn’t have the opportunity to study at a university or find a job because of my disability and social class. Most of Colombia’s higher education institutions are privately run. Enrolment at a public university involves competing by sitting state exams and getting high marks — and my academic results were not up to scratch. Nor could I apply for computing courses nor learn a trade because the community centre did not have “special needs teachers”. This was on account of my disability. These painful and frustrating situations made it dawn on me that something was wrong. So I began to take matters into my own hands, to question what I saw around me and to organize myself along with others experiencing the same segregation. Something else that helped me understand my marginalized status was my political activism for many years in Colombia’s Communist Party. The experience was a real education.
In 2010, I began working in the performance arts after making a project that combined research, activism, and documentary filmmaking with four friends on the subject of disability, sexuality and gender. We wanted a performance to conclude the documentary, which led to the monologue called Tentáculos (Tentacles). My inspiration was the Italian director Pippo Delbono, who came to Colombia to present his play War and worked with several disabled actors.
I wrote and dramatized Tentáculos as a monologue. I sought to shed light on the stereotyped narrative built up around disabled people who are treated as children, limiting their feminine and masculine development. The connection created between the story and the spectator makes possible the sharing of experiences and breaks away from a politically correct discourse. The monologue has toured various cities in Colombia and in 2018 was staged in Mexico and Nepal.
In 2012 I trained as a teacher of Contemporary Inclusive Dance and subsequently began to give dance workshops. I am the co-creator of the Compañía de Danza Luna Patch, a dance company that performed my first play called Campo de Espejos (Field of Mirrors) at Universidad del Cauca in Colombia.
There is no future unless we become unconventional
My work in the arts world stems from my questioning of platforms that are completely normative or segregationist. Plays rarely use disabled actors. Moreover, disability arts is positioned as therapy or carried out in a segregationist way which steers me toward a critical perspective on art. Disabled artists produce powerful works, strongly critical of society. However, many of these artists cannot earn a stable income to make a living from their work. People also need to have access to art education.
I don’t foresee the future being different from the present unless we find unconventional ways of making progress. We need the mainstream community to support our work rather than seeing it as remote from their reality.
Each time I took off my corset to wash, I had the sensation that I lost a part of myself, I felt weak, powerless… my body had become a corset and vice-versa. I had worn foot splints since I was six months old. My childhood was very Forrest Gump-like. Now the technology has improved and they no longer make a noise.
I’m afraid of walking, afraid of falling, afraid of suffering, afraid of fighting, afraid of hallucinogens (having them near me or trying them), afraid of loving, afraid of feeling, afraid of desiring, afraid of the dark, afraid of sex, afraid of living and dying… Facing up to these fears has been my greatest feat. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to begin by dealing with my own mental defects. There are some things I’ve asked myself and I’d like to ask you too. Can disabled people conceive or adopt children? Can I be a mother? I’ve considered the possibility of adopting a child. Why not? Would I be a bad mother? What do you need to be a “good” mother? Is it really about your body? What is the question? Why the hell are my sexual and reproductive rights even questioned? What sexual and reproductive rights? It’s in my nature, just like it’s in yours…
Natalia Moreno Rodríguez -Bubulina- is a Colombian social communicator and inclusive contemporary dance instructor. She identifies as a sexual dissident and a woman with diversidad funcional física. She started her human rights activism in 2007, and is part of the founding team of the Colectiva Polimorfas, a support group for women in Diversidad funcional/ Disability in Colombia.