Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A Taos Pueblo woman found dead outside a residence there Saturday has been identified by her family as 29-year-old DeAnna Autumn Leaf Suazo, a well-known New Mexico artist.
A family member confirmed her death to the Journal, and noted she was the daughter of Taos Pueblo artist David Gary Suazo, but would not discuss any circumstances of her death.
The death is being investigated by the FBI and the Taos Pueblo Department of Public Safety, an FBI spokesman said in an email Monday. The agency did not release a name.
Pueblo police referred inquiries to the Taos Pueblo Governor’s Office, which did not return a call for comment Tuesday. The pueblo has been closed to nontribal members due to the pandemic.
Steven McFarland, owner of the Revolt Gallery in Taos, knew Suazo for several years and exhibited her work in several shows. He said he last spoke with her Thursday night at the gallery.
“She was totally in good spirits,” said McFarland in a Tuesday phone interview. “She was one of the purest, sweetest souls I have met in my life. She was the epitome of her corn maidens (depicted in her art).
“My friends and me, we are all shocked, we are just devastated. A tragic loss.”
Suazo divided her time between Taos, where she was born and raised, and Santa Fe, where she received a bachelor’s degree in studio arts in May from the Institute of American Indian Arts, according to her website.
Her work has been on display in numerous shows and galleries, and she participated in the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts’ (SWAIA) Santa Fe Indian Market for almost 10 years, and in the Artist Market at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in 2016 and 2018.
Her art also included a painted room in the Nativo Lodge in Albuquerque and shows at La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe and the Millicent Roger’s Museum in Taos.
Suazo described herself as a “Taos Pueblo and Diné contemporary 2D artist,” on her website.
The Institute of American Indian Arts noted her passing on its website Tuesday evening: “We are deeply saddened to acknowledge the loss of DeAnna Autumn Leaf Suazo (Diné, Taos Pueblo), who tragically passed away last weekend.
“DeAnna loved celebrating her Diné and Taos Pueblo heritage, and creating art that reflected Pueblo cultural significance and aesthetics,” the tribute said. “She will be remembered as a dedicated student, a devoted friend, a kind person and a passionate artist whose creativity knew no bounds.”
Her art grew out of “a collaboration of different styles,” Suazo said in a radio interview with KCEI, Taos-Red River, last month. Her parents, both painters, focused on pueblo architecture and Southwest landscapes, but she was inspired by anime, a style of Japanese television and film animation.
“Growing up, I watched anime with my older brother and older sister, and cousins,” Suazo said in the interview. “So that really, really plays on to memory and bringing memory into my art … for a while, I was painting just like them (her parents), and I wanted to separate my style and my image from theirs.”
“I really wanted to represent pueblo people today, whereas a lot of representation I see is from the past or it’s from such outside perspectives as the Taos Society of Artists … and bringing anime into it makes it new, makes it fresh, it makes it recognizable as a modern thing of today,” Suazo said during the 30-minute interview.
She also described the influence of “Sailor Moon,” an animated series and books depicting the adventures of a Japanese schoolgirl whose author focused on the “strength of femininity and the power of the moon.” That reminded Suazo of pueblo stories handed down from her great-grandmother to her mother to her.
“I was always drawn to women empowering women; even though they are little girls, they are still able to help each other in a strong way, and help the world with the power of the moon,” she said. “What reminds me of ‘Sailor Moon’ in my pieces is her hair. She is recognizable for these two buns on her head and, in a way, they reminded me of Taos Pueblo stylized buns and that’s what I incorporated into my pieces..
“I really emphasize the hair in my work, and then that emphasizes the strength in their culture. A lot of us have long hair and we keep it that way to participate in our religious doings.”