Interview with Deborah A. JoJola

by Lisa C. Taylor

  1. LCT: How does your work explore the relationship between Pueblo women artists and cultural identity?

DJ: I can’t speak for any other artist but myself, I feel my art has a relationship with each viewer whether they are artists or not. My cultural identity is my art. I can place a single mark on a canvas and that becomes my identity. My cultural identity is within my being as a Native woman, a Daughter, Mother, Grandmother and is my very soul. This relationship is transmitted through a visual voice of imagery and connection, with the land, the elements, and my spirituality.

  • LCT: You have a wall fresco entitled “Reconciliation” that was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe. What does this work mean to you, and why did you call it “Reconciliation”?

DJ: “Reconciliation” was the title of the exhibition that I was invited to participate in. It was a conversation/collaboration on a critical dialogue with viewpoints from diverse artists, each from the area, having cultural roots and history. The La Entrada ispresented every year in the Santa Fe plaza, in New Mexico. My fresco secco, entitled “Prayers to All My Relatives” was part of the Reconciliation exhibit that responds to the transformation and last year’s ending of “La Entrada,” which was part of the Santa Fe Fiestas. This reenactment depicted a particular version of the late 17th century “reconquest” of the region by Spanish authorities, following the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. Although the event was never universally accepted, and had been resisted for decades, in 2017 protests escalated nearly to violence. Following careful negotiations, the pageant was discontinued in 2018.

My piece pays homage to the Pueblo warriors and people, and all that was sacrificed to keep the stronghold in what was theirs from the beginning.

  • LCT: Deborah Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, is now the Secretary of the Interior. Do you foresee more recognition and power for Native American voices in the future?

DJ: Yes, I truly hope this will continue, as more of our Native People know what can transpire in our fight to protect our lands, water and culture. We must all remain and stand strong supporting each other.

Deb Haaland has proven that we are capable of achieving these goals. ”This moment is a culmination of so many of the sacrifices that my ancestors made,” Haaland said, “If we’re visible, that means our needs are being met, that means we’re being taken seriously, that means our issues are at the forefront.” She speaks with much Power and Truth.

  • LCT: Talk about the use of color and texture in your art. Is it symbolic of your message? What artists do you love?

DJ: The colors and textures in my work are a major focus in achieving surfaces that challenge my process. I am constantly looking at nature and within my environment for rich colors and various textures. We all see differently; we see color differently. Some of us see texture before color or vice versa. I look at both with a balance as I work my process of touching the soil for making my plaster, the smell of wet soil and spreading the plaster on the walls or surfaces. All relates to nature, the smell of rain, walking in a water puddle or on the beach. It triggers a are memories that we recognize and know. This is the symbolic message.

I love many artists; Pablita Velarde, Fred Kabotie, Hodaka Yoshida, Salvador Dali, Andy Goldsworthy, and more.

  • LCT: You have received many accolades for your artwork using centuries old art forms. How does the history of the Pueblo inform your art?

DJ: I feel and hope my work bestows the values and importance of our culture and its long history. It speaks to those who will listen. It reminds us of our ancestors, of the Past, for symbolic imagery in the present, and for the future. I realize that my purpose in life is within my artwork. I use my art to speak to my people, to teach and to preserve/revive a technique that will be lost if not learned and not practiced. This is our future.

  • LCT: The concept of sharing a living culture that communicates resilience, respect for the interdependent web of life, and history is reflected in your work. How can your art influence culture?

DJ: As I mentioned before it connects us to the past as we practice age old songs, and ceremonies that carry an important message for decades. Art is an important facet that teaches and influences this cultural practice.

  • LCT: Climate change has caused a crisis in the world. How might art raise awareness of the environmental impact of the modern world?

DJ: Art has the opportunity to bring this important conversation to new audiences and to make people think about the issue in new ways. We all can change our climate and environmental issues and art is an impactful dialogue in which to do so.

I use my art installations, which encompasses draping printed scrolls, earthen soils and my Willow Woman. All emerges into an environment as a delicate story that is wind-swept through elements within the larger installations. These multifaceted works highlight the relationship between earthly and often universal elements, like clay, wind, and sand, and they speak of the ways in which we have exploited, extracted, and left hollow of so many of earth’s precious resources. I utilize Willow Woman, a spectral female figure made from willow reeds collected on my walks. She responds to human movement and earthly forces with great sensitivity and subtlety. Transparent, and thus emptied of any real substance. She embedded, becomes a sobering reminder of that which humans take and which humans should give to Mother Earth. (Quote by Dr. Lesley A. Wolf ).

  • LCT: The pandemic has been hard on artists and writers who depend on exhibits and interaction with people. What is the first thing you plan to do once you are able to travel and connect with other artists?

DJ: The pandemic was a time to recollect for our future, in ways that we relate to our families, and each other. It gave us the distance from everyday routines, and the need for people to stay home and learn who they are and to be with their families and loved ones. It re-taught us to learn new things, like gardening, playing with our children, having dinner together and just talking to one another.

We Re-connected to our ceremonies and had our community gatherings, heard the sound of the drums, and watched the celebration of our traditional dances. This will be the first vital interaction that is important to our Native culture and is needed within our communities. Planning for the next public event will begin with preparation for the annual SWAIA Indian market in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is a place where Native artists meet, greet and see each other’s new work. It is a homely place for artists’ dialogue and great sales of art. Hopefully this will begin more travelling for museum exhibitions.

  • LCT: Talk about what you are working on now.

I am currently weaving another Willow Woman out of willow reeds, writing and applying for some grants in the near future to work and collaborate with young emerging artists from my community of the Pueblo of Isleta. Also, I’ve been working with a filmmaker from California on a documentary on Native blankets. As I was Pendleton’s Artist of the Year in 2018 for the Artist Series Blanket with my design. I also take walks and collect pigments for new frescos. I’ve started contract work with the State of New Mexico, Tourism Department as the Curator for the Inter-tribal Ceremonial office in Gallup, New Mexico, while assisting in identifying artifacts for a 100th Anniversary exhibition. I am spending as much time as I can with my Mother, daughter, son and grand kiddos, and my loved ones.

  1. LCT: I believe that art and writing have the power to change a culture. How will your work help those who know nothing about the Pueblo advance and amplify a message of respect and environmental awareness?

DJ: The power to change a culture and amplify the message of respect and environmental awareness will definitely take time and persistence. The more we sound our voices and share our process, it will escalate and intensify our importance.

To discover more about Deborah Jojola, visit her web page: