“Meticulous” doesn’t even begin to describe the work of Shan Goshorn (b. 1957). Rooted in advocacy, education and activism, the Eastern Band of Cherokee artist’s double-woven works tell a complex story of oppression, redemption and survival. From afar, her pieces appear bold and striking. Up close, seeing strips of text from the Indian Removal Act of 1830, historical treaties and maps that reflect the shrinking of Cherokee lands, her baskets take on a much deeper voice.
When was it that you decided that weaving was going to be your thing?
When I was a teenager, I worked at our tribe's arts cooperative, and I saw the weaving that came through, and when I graduated from college, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board hired me to do drawings of traditional Cherokee basket patterns in pen and ink. So I knew how, I understood after doing about 15 or 20 of those, I understood the math and the rhythm, but I never wanted to actually try weaving until 2008, when I had an idea for a piece on sovereignty that I thought, This might be an interesting way to get my message across.
When did it take over your artistic experience?
Probably in about 2010. I've always considered myself an artist that chooses a medium that will best express an idea, so I'm a multimedia artist. I work in a lot of different mediums—but since 2010, I have been mostly doing baskets.
Your pieces are extremely intricate; some take upward of a year to complete. Where does your mind go when you're weaving?
Oh, it's very meditative. I often listen to books on CD, I'll listen to the radio, I'll be thinking about things—I always have a notebook next to me so I can write down ideas if I think of titles or phrases—I think very fragmentedly, so I try to take notes so I can piece things together.
Talk to me about the inspiration behind some of your works. I remember distinctively the Washington Redskins basket. What are you trying to say with a piece like that?
Well, mascots have been a huge force in my work, and by extension, cultural appropriation. Until I started doing baskets, I think I had a very unreceptive audience; maybe my approach was too confrontational. But there's something about baskets that invites the viewer to lean in. They actually want to have this conversation that has been the inspiration behind my work for three decades. I wanted my work to be a springboard for conversation, and I'm not sure if you realized, but I actually wove a Redskins pennant into that piece. I think the nation should be ashamed of the fact that our national team is named after a racial slur, and so the documents that I wove into that piece are two definitions straight from the American Heritage Dictionary that are virtually identical: one is the definition of redskin and the other is the definition of nigger, to show how these are so similar in definition, but not in our national perception.
What are some of the memorable reactions you've experienced others have to your work?
Well, when I first started doing political work—when I first started doing human rights work—people got really worked up and said, 'Oh, you're making a big deal over nothing, you need to get over this. That's not what that means,' and sometimes, people would come back after they had a chance to think about it and say, 'You know, you're right. I never thought about it that way, but you're right.' There's something about baskets…people are enthusiastic and eager and curious and responsive. They want to know more, and they're just stunned that they don't know some of the things that I'm teaching them that are part of this country's history that's been completely eliminated from coursework and schools.
See it in the flesh: Gorshon debuts a new arsenal of work this weekend at Indian Market, booth 275-PAL on Palace Avenue.