Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A Taos Pueblo woman who was found dead outside a residence there on Saturday has been identified by her family as 29-year-old DeAnna Autumn Leaf Suazo, a noted New Mexico artist.
A family member confirmed her death to the Journal, noting that she was the daughter of Taos Pueblo artist David Gary Suazo, but declined to discuss circumstances of her death.
The death is under investigation by the FBI and the Taos Pueblo Department of Public Safety, an FBI spokesman said in an email Monday. The agency has not released a name.
Pueblo police referred the investigation to the office of the governor of Taos Pueblo, which did not answer a call for comment Tuesday. The pueblo is closed to non-tribal members due to the pandemic.
Steven McFarland, owner of the Revolt Gallery in Taos, has known Suazo for several years and has exhibited her work in several shows. He said he last spoke to her at the gallery on Thursday night.
“She was totally in a good mood,” McFarland said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “She was one of the purest, sweetest souls I’ve met in my life. She was the epitome of her corn maidens (depicted in her art).
“My friends and I, we are all shocked, we are just devastated. A tragic loss.”
Suazo split her time between Taos, where she was born and raised, and Santa Fe, where she received a bachelor’s degree in studio arts from the Institute of American Indian Arts in May, according to her website.
Her work has been featured in numerous shows and galleries, and for nearly 10 years she has participated in the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) Santa Fe Indian Market, and the Artist Market at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in 2016 and 2018.
Her art also included a painted room at the Nativo Lodge in Albuquerque and shows at Santa Fe’s La Fonda Hotel and the Millicent Roger’s Museum in Taos.
Suazo described herself as a “Taos Pueblo en 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 recognize the loss of DeAnna Autumn Leaf Suazo (Diné, Taos Pueblo), who passed away tragically last weekend.
“DeAnna loved celebrating her Diné and Taos Pueblo heritage and creating art that reflected the cultural significance and aesthetic of Pueblo,” the tribute said. “She will be remembered as a devoted student, a devoted friend, a kind person and a passionate artist whose creativity knew no bounds.”
Her art was born 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 into the memory and the bringing of remembrance into my art…for a while I painted just like them (her parents), and I wanted to separate my style and my image from theirs.”
“I really wanted to represent the pueblo people today, while a lot of the representations I see come from the past or come from outside perspectives like 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 about the adventures of a Japanese schoolgirl whose author focused on the “power of femininity and the power of the moon.” That reminded Suazo of pueblo stories passed down to her from her great-grandmother to her mother.
“I was always attracted 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 can be recognized by these two buns on her head and in a way they reminded me of Taos Pueblo stylized buns and that’s what I’ve incorporated into my pieces.
“I really put the emphasis on the hair in my work, and that emphasizes the power in their culture. Many of us have long hair and we keep it that way to participate in our religious activities.”