Bubble of Joy: The Work of a Late Taos Pueblo Artist Emerges with Tradition, Style and Strength

DeAnna’s iconic Autumn Leaf Suazo girls exist somewhere between Tokyo, Navajo Nation, and Taos Pueblo, in a stylized world accessorized with lollipops, sunglasses, and pops of Japanese comics and Indigenous culture.

They all share a sense of gentleness, pride and strength; just like their creator.

“I don’t think she realized she was painting herself,” said Suazo’s father, Taos Pueblo artist David Gary Suazo. “I called DeAnna and her art the bubble of joy. She made people happy.”

His mother was Navajo artist Geraldine Tso.

Tragically, Suazo’s parade of fabulous girls and her glittering life and career came to an untimely end. Last November, the 29-year-old entertainer was killed in Taos Pueblo by the violently possessive boyfriend she was considering breaking up with.

She was pursuing a master’s degree at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and juggled her usual multiple projects.

A vibrant and illuminating look at his life’s work can be seen at the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center in Albuquerque through February 18, 2023.

The exhibition, aptly named “Traditional Girl With a Contemporary Pop”, features 23 of her pieces, selected by her parents. They range from small drawings on ledger paper to seven-foot-tall acrylic paintings.

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Suazo’s death is another heartbreaking example where even the most confident and successful women find themselves embroiled in toxic relationships and experiencing domestic violence.

“It’s like a virus,” said Paula Mirabal, Suazo’s aunt and chief curator of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. “She was an empowering woman. She was so funny. She was always laughing. She had a lovely little voice. She was fantastic. Her brain was constantly working.

During the moving opening of the exhibit in April, more than 400 artists and community members came to celebrate Suazo’s life and work and listen to presentations on domestic violence issues and prevention.

Mirabal worked closely with representatives of the Coalition to End Violence Against Indigenous Women in the production of the exhibit.

“I hope when people come to see DeAnna’s art, they start having conversations about safety and accountability in tribal communities,” said Tiffany Jiron, co-coordinator of the coalition. “Unfortunately, it is our own men, from our tribal communities, who are causing this harm.”

Mirabal said the coalition was an invaluable asset to mount a Suazo exhibit with the sensitivity, resources and sense of responsibility required.

“I reached out to the coalition because they were able to help me talk to DeAnna’s parents about healing from this trauma and methods to overcome it. I can use this as a platform to have these kinds of discussions. “, she said. It’s a good thing that we have all the incredible information from the coalition to draw from to help people. I have set up a pedestal at the exhibition with leaflets and information on domestic violence, emergency numbers… The help they need is there.

Mirabal said she is planning more events on domestic violence issues.

During the opening, Géraldine Tso gave a short speech on the importance of identifying and resolving problems for potential abusers and victims, before they erupt into tragedy.

“One of the points I made was if you have a mental problem, to get help for yourself, or if you’re stressed with your partner, get help,” he said. she declared.

At the time she died, anyone familiar with the Indigenous art scene could instantly recognize a Suazo girl when she appeared on posters or on social media.

“She didn’t know it, but she was already famous,” David Gary Suazo said. “Her mother and I always wondered how far she would have gone and what else she would have created. She was getting famous so fast. She was like a shooting star.

Suazo’s art was everywhere because she always used her talent to bring positivity and power to the native community.

While working on pieces for schools, markets and exhibitions across the country, from the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market in Phoenix to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York, she also created images for major Indian organizations. and events advancing culture, art and education.

She illustrated posters and promotional materials for the LA Skins Fest Native American film festival, and her work adorned artists’ badges at the Santa Fe Indian Market last year.

She had just finished illustrating an upcoming storybook about Pueblo life for Taos Pueblo’s Tiwa language program.

“I can’t wait for this book to come out. When I saw it, I just broke down crying. I said to David, this is one of his best works,” Tso said. isn’t the girl she always depicts in her drawings holding a snow cone, or an ice cream cone, or a lollipop, or glasses. It’s actually a whole family. They fish, they cook…. He is about Pueblo life. She has put her life into this book.

The chapters of Suazo’s short and bright life were also steeped in culture and close family. She began to make art organically in the environment of creativity, support and generosity that her parents cultivated.

From the age of 2 1/2, she began drawing animals and Pueblo scenes on any paper she could find, from advertisements to pages taken from the local telephone book. Eventually, her parents began providing her with vintage ledger paper and sheet music.

She also grew up on the Aboriginal art market circuit, where she and her older siblings Shundine and Dexter were known to commandeer the stalls of absentee artists and create and sell their own art on the spot.

A few years into his practice, Suazo began experimenting with drawing stylish girls influenced by native and Japanese cartoons which eventually became his calling card. The idea had been passed on to him by his mother and older sister.

“Before Christmas, I painted these little girls on felt and cut them out for Christmas decorations,” Tso said. “DeAnna’s sister, Shundine, got it and she started drawing little girls. She pursued it to a point, and then she got into other interests, and DeAnna took it over. She did her twists and turns around these little girls, finding a way where she was very comfortable with it.

For Suazo’s parents, it was fascinating to see his growing maturity as an artist reflected in his daughters.

“She went from watercolors to acrylics to illustration pens and India ink, and she mixed them all together,” her father said. “As she started to progress, her daughters became very detailed; she started to use movement, faces started to have expressions.

Tso was impressed with how her daughter incorporated so many references into her pieces.

“She was very attached to her culture. She said she wasn’t trying to do ledger art like the Plains Indians. She wanted her own Native Southwest style. And then she put some Sailor Moon in it. And then she also put in these little geometric shapes,” Tso said. “She put everything she could think of into these drawings. Like the girls wear snow cones, ice cream, lollipops, and those were her favorites too. And she designed the jewelry in her drawings based on the style of her grandfather, who was a goldsmith. She put everything she knew into these drawings.

In the aftermath of DeAnna’s death, the Suazos were inundated with requests to purchase her work.

“I get asked almost every day if we have work to sell, and I have to say no. I put a cap on all his work where it’s not for sale,” he said. “But the family has all agreed that in October, for his birthday, we want to do a limited edition lithographs on paper so people can buy them.”

Although it will be some time before collectors can buy his art again, fans of Suazo can immerse themselves in his whimsical world by attending his exhibition and/or checking into room 407 of the Nativo Lodge. in Albuquerque, which is sort of a symbolic second home for the Suazo family.

Each of the hotel’s rooms is painted by native artists. Suazo and his parents all painted rooms there.

DeAnna’s bedroom is full of mountains and flowers and features a sassy girl wearing sunglasses that makes her father feel her aura strongly.

“His chamber is very powerful. It’s like she’s there,” he said. “The way the girl in the sunglasses looks at you says ‘this is my room’.

DeAnna Autumn Leaf SuazoTaos Pueblo and Navajo artist Deanna Autumn Leaf Suazo. (Photo/Courtesy Suazo Family)

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About the Author

Tamara Ikenberg
Author: Tamara IkenbergE-mail: This email address is protected from spam. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tamara Ikenberg is a writer for Native News Online. It covers the tribes of the southwest as well as native arts, culture and entertainment. She can be reached at [email protected]

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