For Indigenous artist Rhiannon Skye Tafoya (Eastern Band Cherokee/Santa Clara Pueblo), the intricate layers of her work are inspired by the inextricable ties between basketry and family narratives. These themes are interwoven in Kanosdaya, a new exhibition of three-dimensional paper weavings that is inspired by and dedicated to her one-year-old son, Kanosdaya.
After Tafoya gave birth in 2020, she began learning to create digital designs for her work in Adobe Illustrator. “In all of my years of making work, I’ve always been an analog person, writing and drawing and making prints by hand,” she says. “When I started creating work again, I had to start doing digital work because I couldn’t do as much with him in my arms.”
Inspired by the basket-weaving traditions of the Eastern Band of Cherokee based in the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, she also began reimagining how to repurpose her tribe’s harvested wood, used for the narrow splints in Cherokee basketry, into her own contemporary work. Tafoya learned papermaking with artist Georgia Deal, with the intention of creating paper out of these splints of white oak and river cane.
The results of this experiment are beautifully woven and screen printed works — using the handmade paper along with purchased paper and black Tyvek — that celebrate the warp and weft of family connections and honor craft-making traditions. Amid this stew of influences, Tafoya also creates a wholly new form of generative, textural artworks rooted in materiality.
“A lot of my design work is based on my connection to landscape as well as my lived experiences,” Tafoya says. “But I also want to be able to show my son that he is always present in it, too.” Many of the design motifs of Kanosdaya honor him, including a recurring three-cross motif that represents his immediate family unit.
Tafoya’s artist book, Ul’nigid’, was published in 2020, created to honor her grandmother, weaver Martha Reed-Bark, at Women’s Studio Workshop. The moveable book is letterpress-printed with Cherokee syllabary metal type and includes weaving processes inspired by Cherokee traditions. Several narrative poems on an accordion-folded pamphlet honor her memories of her grandmother. When fully opened, the book mimics a basket.
Tafoya received her MFA in Print Media from the Pacific Northwest College of Art, and her BFA in Printmaking and Sculpture from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has been shown at venues including the International Print Center New York, 516Arts, and Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.
Kanosdaya will open Friday, July 30, and will be on view through August 23. An opening reception will take place on July 30.