Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene: Yulianna Padilla (Yulie/Yulietta)



With the internet being so easy to access, it has become easier for independent artists to find an audience and let their work be known. As a result, a variety of movements, collectives, and scenes have found a way to pave their path. The independent art scene in Puerto Rico is no different. Recently, many artists from a variety of disciplines have found platforms that have made it easier for them to share their work. In addition, small businesses such as Electroshock in Santurce and Rio Piedras, bars like Off The Wall in Mayaguez, book stores like La Casita Books and Gifts in Aguadilla, Libros AC in Santurce and Libros 787 online, and independent festivals like Feria de Libros Independientes y Alternativos and Tintero: Festival de Cómics y Arte Independiente de Puerto Rico have provided up-and-coming artists a space to display their talents. “Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene” is a series of  interviews that provides a glimpse at some of the women who have recently gained recognition in the art scene. Though the artists are asked similar questions, some are asked queries surrounding their work, specifically.

What’s your name and what do you do in the arts?

My name is Yulianna, but most people call me Yulie. Others call me Yulietta, my stage name, which I adopted once I began doing live performances on stage. My involvement in the arts began with my interest in becoming a model to master the use of my body language and its forms of expressions. A long career in the modeling industry eventually evolved naturally into other fields in the arts, while I completed simultaneously my academic journey to obtain a Phd in Clinical Psychology.

Currently, I work for the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC) of Puerto Rico designing arts-based workshops mostly around the theme of Social Emotional Learning for an audience of school-aged teenagers. I’m also currently a performance artist working within a Neo-Burlesque approach to pole dancing. Through creative expression I’ve dealt with themes about identity and the female body in contexts where eroticism, sensuality and sexuality are also explored. Other roles within the arts include acting and teaching movement practices such as pole dancing, burlesque chair dancing, flexibility training, partner based approaches to training and others.

(picture by Stephanie Segarra)

What got you into pole dancing?

Being in the right place at the right time is what got me into pole dancing. When I started taking pole dancing classes I had a particular need of exploring movement and challenging my mind and body in new ways. I was never a dancer, always an athlete, so I had never considered pole dancing as an approach to working the mind/body relationship. Once I began as a student, I developed a serious attitude towards the practice, learning something new about me every step of the way. After training for over a year, my mentors suggested the possibility of teaching the practice and, without any hesitation, I got certified as a Pole Dance and Flexibility Instructor. This will be my third year teaching, all the while I’ve been paving the way to combine both my professional psychological and movement based formations in order to offer a therapeutic approach that uses creative and artistic methods for both healing and prevention.

Performing also really got me into pole dancing. Since the beginning, I was clear this was the best way for me to put into practice all that I had been learning about me and my human condition, all which I wanted to express through bizarre and otherworldly characters.

(picture by Marisol Pesquera)

What got you into acting?

I think that every modeling experience served as a stepping stone that eventually took me into acting. I always believed that a “good” model was like an actress, able to put on a role for the camera. One in which you become someone else, embodied in the way you walk, talk, use gestures and such. Also, I went to many commercial and TV castings in which I had to learn to express myself and follow scripts. So it all evolved naturally within my desire to explore myself (in terms of identity and of embodied experiences that challenge my own understandings) through modeling and the opportunities that kept appearing from me being there actively seeking.

La Granja (2015), by Angel Manuel Soto, was my first acting gig in a full feature film. I recall this as the first experience that really challenged me as an actress. I played the role of a teenager seeking to escape her reality through risky pleasure seeking behaviors. This required for me to wait around to be called to set with a school-girl uniform and special fx makeup of ulcers in my arms and feet. The character I played brought forth a reality dissonant of my own, which required doing some digging on real social issues in order to embody ways of being through acting that convey the complexities of a troubled teenage life living on a much more troubled society. It was truly an eye opening experience that only left me wanting more. And lucky me, more experiences as challenging and engaging as this one keep showing up.    

What got you into modeling?

I can’t pinpoint it to something specific. There were many influences that came about through my life experiences which made me want to pursue a modeling career. As a child, I participated in summer camps where recognized figures in the modeling and pageant industry were my teachers. At the time, they were role models who showed me what confidence, determination and hard work looked like. Also, I had a weird fascination with some of the supermodels of the 1990’s such as Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and other models, like those from the Guess Catalogue. I admired their beauty and how they carried themselves, their unapologetic display of sexual energy and the somewhat diverse expression of beauty and power. As a teenager, I also had a best friend who was a teen model and I really enjoyed all that she shared from her experiences. After a school talent show where I did my first runway, I decided to take it seriously and signed up on a modeling academy. After I learned that I did not fit within the modeling beauty standards of the time, I took matters in my own hands and began collaborating for photoshoots and working with artists of the industry I admired. This story is long, but I can end it here saying that I worked hard to create the conditions where I could do what I wanted to pursue in my own terms: self-expressing in honest ways.

(picture by SUPAKID)

How do you balance all of the art forms?

Balance has come only through practice. By recognizing that all the roles I’ve come to pursue and develop only inform themselves from that which I’ve been previously doing. I’ve developed into a serious actress because I was a committed model before. I’m a good performer because I was a disciplined athlete before that. And I’ve been “good” in all these roles because my pursuit has been one that has evolved from an honest place, that in which I can look at myself in the mirror and gain insight, perspective, understanding, empathy, and so on. And from taking a good look inside, I am able to exteriorize through creative means.  

(picture by Glorimar Sierra)

How did you develop your style?

By actively seeking for what moves me: the thrill of a new challenge, the excitement of playing someone else (and therefore, having to get to know myself), the uncertainty of not knowing what comes next, the desire to be formally educated and trained, and the need of developing a discipline through practice. I am not sure which is my style, but I know that I walk confidently knowing that this pursue is ongoing and that it will continue to evolve as the days go by.

(picture by Katarzyna Milewska)

How has it evolved through the years?

The answer to this question can vary depending on what we assume is my style. But I can say that what I do has evolved in close relation to the constant transformation in my perspectives and understandings of the world and my place in it, of my interpersonal relationships and my relationship with myself. This empowered self that I portray through my work is closely related to all the breaking down and putting back together into more coherent or self accepting pieces.

(picture by Grego Nieves)

What are some of your influences and inspirations?

Marion Crampe, Marlo Finsken, Brynn Route, Donna Hood, La Trinchera, Jean D’arc, Tilda Swinton and many more women who I feel represent me. As for my inspirations, all that is mysterious, dark, bizarre and leaves me wandering and looking in. All that I do through my work is a hyper representation of who I am or strive to be, look, talk, act. So my inspirations come from real human existential and social issues that take me inward-outward in a constant conversation with myself and with those I have the honor of working with.

(picture by SUPAKID)

Is there any other form of art you wish to pursue? If so, what field and why?

Recently, I began to train in contortion movement. I guess this is in the same field as pole dancing, a mix of gymnastics and dance. The “whys” are so many; mainly I would say because this will challenge my body and my mind in ways I have yet to discover. I like being new to different practices. As a child, this included karate, soccer, basketball and volleyball. As an adult, it is pole dancing, the occasional contemporary dance workshop, recently embroidery, and now, contortion. Another “why” to this new form of art, or rather practice, is because I wish to incorporate contortion into my pole practice and performance. One last “why,” because I really want to get my butt to my head while doing a chest stand (google it and you shall see the beauty).

(picture by Stephanie Segarra)

What do you think about the current state of the arts in Puerto Rico?

I think that the current state of the arts in Puerto Rico is in desperate need for recognition, support and development in school programs, as an accessible therapeutic alternative, in public spaces and as a daily dose in the life of everyone.

What do you think about the current state of the independent scene in Puerto Rico?

I think it ranges from diverse to bold, from tradition to innovation and from individual struggle to group collaboration. I feel grateful for every weekend I get the chance to see work that is both inspiring and mind blowing. But if the general artistic scene is in need of support, imagine how much the independent scene is in need of. I believe that it is up to us as individuals to reach out, attend events, make donations and talk to others about the work of others that moves you. So get out there and start supporting your local band, the wild dance collective and the eclectic performance group. Art has changed my life for the better, I am sure it can do that to you too.

(picture by Joelly Rodriguez)

If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be an artist, what would be your advice for her?

I imagine something close to this. Things I strive to practice every day: self-love, kindness, honesty and empathy to yourself and those around you. In pursuing this, I have achieved goals that once seemed like dreams. I have not been successful in achieving this every day, but what I have come to learn in the process about myself has empowered me and helped me to push through my roughest moments. No one can take this away from me, and no one can take it away from you. If I had the chance to go back and tell my younger self something I would’ve liked to know then, it would be this; “Do, even when afraid you might fail. It’s okay to be unsure about where you’re going, as long as your main pursue is to be the person you wish to be, the path shall unfold”. Everything around us in an opportunity to know ourselves, to be inspired and to live meaningfully. I had to learn this the hard way, yet here I am.

(picture by Stephanie Segarra)

What is your biggest goal right now?

To work towards developing a space that offers integrated therapeutic approaches within movement practices. Funny thing, I had not completed answering this before my life took a huge turn. I am now creating the space along two of my best friends where this will be possible. I do not wish to go into detail, but it goes to show that when you know what you want, you start creating the conditions to get to that place, consciously or not.

All of the pictures in this article were provided by Yulianna Padilla