Today is Monday, June 22nd
(read our post from Wednesday, March 25th for more information about how we're able to remain open for business)
Hello everyone! This Monday we’re looking at the work of portrait and fiber artist Bisa Butler. Butler creates vibrantly colored and intricately detailed reimaginings of old photographs depicting African-American people whose stories have been lost. Her life-size quilted portraits can take up to 200 hours to assemble, while she cuts and layers each tiny shadow and highlight out of fabric. Butler merges her skills as a formally trained painter with the sewing she learned beside her mother and grandmother as a child to bring an organic quality to her work, each cut piece of fabric feeling as alive and fluid as a brushstroke.
The stories of the people she is depicting are unknown, yet she writes, “I feel these people. I know these stories because I have grown up with them my whole life”. She is able to imagine the lives of the ordinary African-American people who sat for these portraits or were captured candidly before the lens because she “grew up listening to the tales of [her] elders and [she] heard about what it felt like to be cold and hungry, but also to have love for one’s family”. Through her chosen medium of the quilt, she continues the tradition of African-American quilting that has existed since enslaved Africans were brought to this country “and needed to keep warm” by “mak[ing] do with the scraps of cloth that were left after clothing wore out”. Butler writes that her own pieces are “reminiscent of this tradition,” but that this time her “subjects are adorned with and made up of the cloth of our ancestors,” namely the fabrics she uses from her father’s “homeland of Ghana, batiks from Nigeria, and prints from South Africa”. “If these visages are to be recreated and seen for the first time in a century,” she writes in her artist statement, “I want them to have their African Ancestry back, I want them to take their place in American History”.
See more of Bisa Butler’s work on her Instagram @Bisabutler, and learn more about her process, artistic vision, and experience studying painting at Howard University here.