Isabel Zuluaga Mesa, best known under her artist name Zumbambico, is a Colombian illustrator whose drawing titled Fuerza (which translates to Strength) is featured on the cover of the SRHM Open Issue 2022.
The text below was written by Zumbambico.
What was the inspiration behind the illustration Fuerza?
I usually work with elements from nature to express my ideas and in this specific case, the suns in the image symbolize our power and the light that the SRHM Journal brings to discussions on sexual and reproductive health and rights. In addition, the moons, blood, and water aim to depict the cyclical nature of our bodies and lives – being human means we constantly experience transformation, phases, and movement.
It was important to me to express the importance of women’s active participation in conversations about rights and health. This is represented by the silhouette of a body and the profiles (faces) spread through the canvas. The body is rooted and stable as a symbol of our resistance and loud voice throughout history.
How do you speak of sexual and reproductive health and rights in your art?
As a Colombian woman, I was born and raised in a society where women’s bodies are extremely objectified. Growing up, I was fed the message that women’s appearances are for men to observe, rate and discuss. Part of this culture comes from the Narco Cartels which emerged in the 80s and 90s and promoted the idea of women as trophies that are to be used and paraded by men. This idea remains deeply rooted in our society and consequently, plastic surgery is very prevalent in Colombia which only amplifies the pressure on women to adhere to specific and often unattainable beauty standards.
Through my art, which is autobiographical, I focus on portraying free and unapologetic bodies. I draw universes where women are queens of their own territories and where we are free to be ourselves. My drawings feature women that go against all beauty ideals and proudly show their rolls, stretch marks, scars, wrinkles, and all the sensuality that inhabits them in their own way; women who are not afraid of taking space and being heard. Unconsciously, these drawings became my way of healing from all the aesthetic pressures I have suffered from and an invitation for other women to do the same.
I think of my work as a ‘rebel yell’ in a society that still carries a colonial legacy, which is reflected in the domination over our bodies (territories) through the masculine gaze and the high rates of sexual abuse and violence against women and children. We are constantly told to be silent and to shrink both our bodies and our emotions to be accepted.
Nevertheless, I believe we are beginning to free ourselves from these very painful chains and art plays has a huge role in transforming our reality and speaking up against oppression and all kinds of injustices. Art is unique in its ability to convey messages powerfully and allows for people to imagine a different world.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on a collection of illustrations titled Abuelas (which translated to ancestors). This collection pays tribute to the elder and strong women who have paved my path. Before drawing each portrait, I research the women I want to draw and most often, I have found that they had endured a lot of pain throughout their lives and in many cases, abuse.
My aim is to portray them in all their glory and to honour them as sovereigns of their lives. These women overcame very difficult and bitter situations and have a lot to teach us. I look at their pain as collective pain and by sharing their stories, I hope it allows present and future generations to continue their path and also to start healing.
In other words, in addition to expressing my admiration for these very resilient women, my intention is to share (free) their stories, especially the parts of their lives that had to be hidden and silenced because the culture at the time said so. Not anymore.
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