We are warriors, we are resilient

December 1, 2021

Ask Carlos Biggemann what needs to change in the world, and he starts with global issues – war, poverty and the destruction of the rainforests – before coming to his disability.

This doesn’t mean attitudes to disability are any less important to him. Carlos, a 30-year-old Dunedin photographer and poet, says he has to prove himself every day of his life.

Carlos’ family came to New Zealand from La Paz, Bolivia, in 2006 in search of a better life and greater opportunities for him. Carlos was born with Down syndrome and it wasn’t long before doors started to close. “I was rejected from many schools,” he says.

When his parents finally found a school for him, Carlos says he knew he would have to work very hard. “It was not going to be easy, but I do like challenges.”

He graduated from Aoraki Polytechnic in 2012 with a certificate in digital photography. In 2013 he was awarded a New Zealand Down Syndrome Association National Achievement Award by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae. In 2016 Carlos won the British Down’s Syndrome Association Stephen Thomas Award in its My Perspective international photography competition. Carlos has exhibited his work in New Zealand and Bolivia and has recently collaborated with 14 poets to create an e-book featuring his photographs of the sky.

The hard work is paying off in terms of recognition of his creativity, but not in terms of paid employment. He is looking for work.

“Oh yes, I know that people who have Down syndrome can do it as well. We have two hands and two feet, we can do extraordinary stuff,” he says. “People like us who have Down syndrome, we should have this goal in life for all of us. We can climb every mountain. We can swim every ocean … and then we will rise up and be more powerful, stronger.

“We are just warriors. We are resilient. We have a voice to be heard,” he says.

“Through my art I want to celebrate happiness, joy, love, tranquility, humanity and to realise we are living in a world of love – love of almighty God.”

Carlos is just one of 24 impressive individuals selected as finalists in this year’s Attitude Awards. 

Competing against him for the Attitude Creative Award is actor Lily Harper from Palmerston North, fresh from a starring role in Up Down Girl and winner of an ‘emerging actor’ award, and Keegan Lewis, from Hikutaia in Waikato, who released his first album My Own Voice in 2016 and has various singles available on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon.

As a result of the Auckland lockdown, the Attitude Awards in December will move to Christchurch for the first time. The gala dinner and awards presentation will be held on 10 December at Christchurch Arena and hosted by TVNZ’s Simon Dallow. It will feature entertainers from the disability sector and the New Zealand Army Band.

The Attitude Awards celebrate excellence and achievements in the disability community, and recognise athletes, employers, employees, young people and other game-changers.

“We’re excited to be bringing the Attitude Awards to Christchurch, introducing Cantabrians to this truly one-of-a-kind event,” says Attitude’s CEO Dan Buckingham, a Paralympic gold medallist who uses a wheelchair after a spinal cord injury.

“Audiences can expect a full range of emotions, from being entertained to inspired, to having their heart warmed.”
The eight categories for this year’s awards are: Attitude Impact Award, Attitude Youth Award, Attitude Creative Award, ACC Attitude Employer Award, Attitude Community Champion Award, Sporting Endeavour Award, Attitude Enterprise Award and Spirit of Attitude Award.

The event will be recorded on the night and broadcast as an hour-long television special on TVNZ on Sunday, 18 December at 4pm.

Caption: Carlos Biggemann photographed by the Attitude Awards filmmakers against a characteristic big Dunedin sky at the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head on Otago Peninsula.