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Bisa Butler weaves the Black diaspora together in dynamic, electric-colored quilted portraits

"3ft High And Rising" by Bisa Butler. (Photo by Genevieve Hanson. Courtesy of Bisa Butler and Jeffrey
Deitch, New York)
"3ft High And Rising" by Bisa Butler. (Photo by Genevieve Hanson. Courtesy of Bisa Butler and Jeffrey Deitch, New York)

Hear this interview on our podcast, Here & Now Anytime.

Artist Bisa Butler creates vibrant portraits with needle and thread, weaving culture, art and history into electrifying quilts.

 

Butler’s pieces meld old and new, past and future, history and hope. She transforms the traditional craft of quilting into a mosaic of fabric to create portraits of Black American history. Her quilts have been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Smithsonian — her new exhibit up now at the Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in New York is called “The World is Yours.”

 

At her art studio in South Orange, New Jersey, Butler creates larger-than-life images out of scraps of cloth. She layers electric colored kente cloth and other African fabrics on top of one another to remake old black-and-white photos into technicolor mosaics. 

 

Butler describes her work as sewing the Black diaspora together within a quilt. Her mother was from New Orleans and her father was from Ghana. Growing up in Louisiana, she saw women go out in silk, satin and lace, while men wore suits made from gabardine or fine wool. The other side of her family dressed up in woven African print and Dutch-African wax fabrics.

 

“When I create a portrait, I’m unknowingly at first creating a portrait of the diaspora,” Butler says, “but originally was a portrait using fabrics from my life.”

 

“Don’t Tread On Me, God Damn, Let’s Go!— The Harlem Hellfighters” by Bisa Butler. (Courtesy of Lee Stalsworth)

Installation views of “Bisa Butler: The World Is Yours” at Jeffrey Deitch, New York, 2023. (Photo by Genevieve Hanson. Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch, New York)

“Colored Entrance” (after Department Store, Mobile, Alabama by Gordon Parks, 1956) (Photo by Genevieve Hanson. Courtesy of Bisa Butler and Jeffrey Deitch, New York)

The Storm, the Whirlwind, and the Earthquake. (Courtesy of Bisa Butler)

Installation views of “Bisa Butler: The World Is Yours” at Jeffrey Deitch, New York, 2023. (Photo by Genevieve Hanson. Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch, New York)

by Bisa Butler. (Photo by Genevieve Hanson. Courtesy of Bisa Butler and Jeffrey Deitch, New York)

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.