Bisa Butler Talks African American Quilt Aesthetic with Vogue

by Yah Yah

If you aren’t already hip to Bisa Bulter and her incredible quilted portraits, then you will soon be following her recent profile in prestigious fashion outlet, Vogue.

Butler was a fine art major in her final year at Howard University when she found out that she was pregnant. Her path to creating quilted portraits was somewhat of a plan b for the artist, who says that she has been painting portraits since she was a child. Thanks to her pregnancy, Butler found the smells of the paints she was using to complete her thesis “unbearable” and was forced to seek an alternative route to complete her project.

So she turned to fabrics as a “stopgap,” and instead of paint, used layers textiles on top of her paintings.

“I finally realized, you don’t have to collage fabric and paint together—you don’t have to paint. You don’t need canvas, you don’t need brushes,” Butler says. “I had been sewing the whole time, making clothing. And I was like, I already have it right here… So I started exclusively making quilted portraits.”

The rest, as they say, is history…

It’s been 20 years since Butler graduated from Howard, and last week, her first solo museum show also made its debut.

Bisa Butler: Portraits debuts at the Katonah Museum of Art in Westchester County and then will travel to the Art Institute of Chicago, which recently acquired one of Butler’s earlier works, per Vogue.

The intricate quilted portraits can take anywhere between 100-2000 hours

“One eye alone can take me two to three hours and can have 20 to 30 micro-cut, tiny pieces of fabric,” she told the publication.

Butler’s artworks are deeply rooted in African American history.

“African Americans have been quilting since we were brought to this country and needed to keep warm,” reads Butler’s artist statement. “From these scraps, the African American quilt aesthetic came into being.”

“In my work I am telling the story—this African American side—of the American life. History is the story of men and women, but the narrative is controlled by those who hold the pen.”

Bisa Butler: The Storm, the Whirlwind and the Earthquake will be showing between February 29, 2020 – April 25, 2020, at the Claire Oliver Gallery.

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