Turning Hardships into Art: Sungsoon DeSouza


DeSouza displays herself artistically in a state of freedom, with doves surrounding her and the sun high in the sky.

M. Blessing Akeju, Contributing Writer

Sungsoon DeSouza transformed her childhood adversities into a series of stunning, emotional drawings and displayed them during the NJCU BFA 2021 Thesis Exhibition.

Her pieces portray scenes from her childhood and gradually begin to depict images of her young adult life as she moved out of her parents’ home and into her own living space. The scenes are bold and resolute as they tell DeSouza’s story within a selection of frames, while still maintaining a cartoonish art style. The character’s signature colors are green and purple, and she can be seen in some panels as a child drawing at her desk and pulling away from the aggressive behavior of one of her parents.

In the following panels, the character is depicted as older and in a more peaceful state as she experiences initial moments of independence in her new home and purchases her own groceries during the pandemic, wearing a mask.

DeSouza, who graduated in June 2021, described her first experiences with art in an interview. “My parents would have an encyclopedia… of different books and I was so interested in the illustrations. I remember one of the earliest drawings I did was dinosaurs. Later on, it developed when I got involved with drawing cartoon characters. After that, I remember in Pre-K… I started to get involved with drawing Dragon Ball Z. I got involved with drawing dragons and different anime.”

Some of DeSouza’s other inspirations and influences include manga artists, anime such as Naruto and One Piece, and other artists she follows on social media. Seeing their work helped her improve her style and her coloring. She attributes her artistic choices to her personal experiences and relationships with people in her life, such as family ties.

“For me, going to the library and seeing so many books was another resource. Throughout the years, I had my ups and downs because there were moments when I would stop drawing for a while. Then, I would see someone else drawing and then it just came back… the passion just sparked. Throughout the years, art has been an enjoyment for me, and seeing other people giving me a positive reaction to my drawings and supporting my art motivated me to keep going.”

DeSouza admits that at first, she felt unsure as to whether she could sustain a career as an artist. Some people recommended she try architecture as a career, for example. “There were a lot of people giving my influences and suggestions… I realize now it is different because my passion has become stronger, and I am more connected to artists than in the past. Seeing other people putting passion into their art has motivated me to be true to myself and the art that I am into, without having someone to box me in. Now, I’m focused on what I want to do,” she declared.

As DeSouza’s character rides a bike on a beautiful day, signature birds flutter around her and she shows an expression of glee.

Life-Changing Events

DeSouza’s art for the NJCU BFA 2021 Thesis Exhibition was an artistic representation of a life-altering decision she made ten months ago; she moved out of her parent’s home to escape what she described as religiously oppressive circumstances. “I moved out around September, and that was during the pandemic… it was a difficult decision to move out. What started it was that… I wanted to reveal some things that were floating inside of me. I grew up in a strict, religious household.

“Both of my parents joined a church movement, and all of my siblings were born into this different kind of culture and lifestyle. For me, it was a lot. I really tried. There were two different worlds I was experiencing; the ideal daughter that my parents wanted me to be, and also, an urge to be free from that… I think a lot of the issues I had growing up was that I stopped believing the things that my parents held dearly.”

Continuing to explain how she reached a critical point, DeSouza said, “There were a lot of restrictions including the person you had to marry… no drinking, and other things I wasn’t allowed to do. Most of my friends didn’t have these kinds of restrictions, so I was caged in. I didn’t go through that rebellious stage, but there was a point where I couldn’t hold myself back anymore. I was tired… of feeling like I wasn’t allowed to express myself, to dress how I want, or go out as often as I wanted. My parents were really protective of us.”

While she felt saddened that she was not able to have the same relationship with her parents as other people, she knew that the timing was right. “I needed to experience life,” DeSouza said.

Advice for Other Students

To other students in similar situations regarding family ties and restrictive environments, DeSouza said, “The right time will come. When you notice an opportunity to change your environment away from something negative or toxic… there will be a sign. Don’t give up… also, save a lot of money! Learn about budgeting and know what you can afford or what you have to wait on. I ended up getting what I could afford temporarily. It isn’t for the rest of my life. You have to strategize and determine how you can get an apartment or house… never stop learning.”

“Friends and siblings are so important… without [them], I would feel so alone and depressed. Find your community and keep those people close… it helps a lot to express your feelings and get everything out of your system.”

Looking Forward

When asked about her plans for the future, DeSouza said, “I plan on experimenting and expanding. I’m looking into animation; I did take one course on 2-D animation. I’m hoping to experiment using Photoshop or Premiere Pro. I am looking into 3-D art as well.”

DeSouza already knows what she needs to work on and what her strong points are in her career as an artist. She has several projects she is working on involving her original characters and an original story, and she is determined to work on making more art in a shorter amount of time.