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ArtCraft

#activism#Bisa Butler#fabric#portraits#quilts#textiles

Bisa Butler’s Vibrant Quilted Portraits Share Extraordinary Stories of Black Americans

February 20, 2023

Kate Mothes

A colorful quilted portrait by Bisa Butler.

Detail of “If I Ruled The World, Imagine That #2” (2022), cotton, silk, wool, metallic brocade, and velvet, quilted and appliquéd, 102 x 51 inches. All images © Bisa Butler, shared with permission

Butler often sources photographs from historic archives, such as an iconic portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and rescued approximately 70 enslaved people through the Underground Railroad. The artist’s portrait of Tubman is powerfully titled “The General,” infused with bold patterns and patchwork. Another

Increasingly, Butler collaborates with living photographers and artists. Spurred by a desire for connection during pandemic lockdowns, she approached Janette Beckman, whose photographs of 1980s hip-hop stars like Run DMC and Salt-N-Pepa documented the era and graced genre-defining album covers. “M

A colorful quilted portrait of Salt-N-Pepa by Bisa Butler.

“Hot, Cool, and Vicious” (2022), Dutch wax fabric, vinyl, wool, glitter, velvet, and screen printed cotton, quilted and appliquéd, 8 x 10 feet. Photo by Gregory Pallante

From start to finish, a piece can take about four to six weeks to complete, beginning with loose sketches in Sharpie marker on top of a printout of a photograph and culminating in quilts that include appliquéd details. “

Do I want to portray somebody who is contemporary or somebody from the past? Do I want to say that this person is strong and bold and powerful? I might use bright, intense colors: bright red, bright fuschia, bright orange, or even an electric green. If I’m trying to say that this person is more laid-back, more calm, more cool, I’m going to use actual cool colors, like cool water and deep blues.

A colorful quilted portrait of the Harlem Hellfighters by Bisa Butler.

“Don’t Tread On Me, God Damn, Let’s Go!—The Harlem Hellfighters” (2021), cotton, silk, wool, and velvet, quilted and appliquéd, 10 x 13 feet. Photo by Lee Stalsworth

In her monumental tribute to African American soldiers who fought in World War I, “Don’t Tread On Me, God Damn, Let’s Go!—The Harlem Hellfighters” consists of nine figures detailed in blues, pinks, and reds on a monochrome backdrop of green florals. The 369th Infantry Regiment consisted mainly of African Americans and also included men from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Guyana, among other places. “W

Legend has it that the Germans called them the Höllenkämpfer or “Hellfighters” for their tenacity and resilience on the battlefield, and the name stuck. “

Butler’s solo exhibition Materfamilias at the Gordon Parks Foundation Gallery runs through April 14, and her quilts are also included in This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through April 2, and Reckoning: Protest. Defiance. Resilience.at the

A detail of colorful quilted portrait by Bisa Butler.

Detail of “Don’t Tread On Me, God Damn, Let’s Go!—The Harlem Hellfighters.” Photo by Lee Stalsworth

A colorful quilted portrait by Bisa Butler.

Detail of “The Warmth of Other Sons” (2020), cotton, silk, wool, and velvet, quilted and appliquéd, 11 x 9 feet

“Forever” (2020), cotton, silk, wool, and quilted and appliquéd velvet. Photo courtesy of LACMA

A colorful quilted portrait of Harriet Tubman by Bisa Butler.

“The General (Portrait of Harriet Tubman)” (2022), cotton, silk, wool, and velvet, quilted and appliquéd, 90 x 60 inches

A colorful quilted portrait based on a photograph by Gordon Parks, by Bisa Butler.

Installation view of “Colored Entrance (after Department Store, 1956, by Gordon Parks)” (2023), cotton, silk, wool, and velvet, quilted and appliquéd, 120 x 60 inches

A colorful quilted portrait by Bisa Butler.

Detail of “If I Ruled The World, Imagine That” (2022), cotton, silk, wool, metallic brocade, and velvet, quilted and appliquéd, 102 x 51 inches

A colorful quilted portrait by Bisa Butler.

“I, Too” (2019)

#activism#Bisa Butler#fabric#portraits#quilts#textiles

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