Bisa Butler’s Quilted Portraits Show ‘How Black People Would Like To Be Seen’ | Chicago News
History, music and photography come together in an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. We visit the exhibition in the event of a delayed pandemic “Bisa Butler: Portraits»To understand the history of these Technicolor textiles.
Marc Vitali: They may look like paintings or photographs, but they’re quilts inspired by Library of Congress documentary photos – and family shots.
We spoke with the artist from his home studio in New Jersey.
Bisa Butler, artist: It’s like browsing a life-size family photo album. I like the idea that we see them and that they see us too, and we watch them regardless of their era. Some of my photos could have been taken from the 1850s to the 1940s, and they’re looking at us in our time, in 2021. Now that there’s a window open, they can look back and wonder what’s going on with us. here now.
Vitali: Bisa Butler and her longtime DJ husband curated a Spotify playlist of songs to complement each work.
And she adds hints of visual elegance to her subjects.
Butler: I look at people in WWII, in a lot of the photos in the exhibit, and black people in the South and Midwest were struggling, and sometimes their clothes are worn and frayed, or sometimes they don’t have shoes. or the hat might be torn and I, because I’m sewing, feel like I have to fix these things.
My mother and grandmother taught me to sew. They were women who sewed on the side because they liked fashionable clothes. My mom was a French teacher and my grandmother was a housewife, but they always tried to make replica Christian Dior dresses or replicas of Halston.
I think I’m part of a succession of this long line of quilters, and one thing I really love about quilting is that it anchors you in this story of feminine creation. And it’s not just women, but it’s a very heavily female dominated field, now and in the past.
Vitali: Now, Butler’s modern works are housed in galleries typically reserved for centuries-old European painting and sculpture.
Butler: It is breathtaking to have my installation above this grand staircase. It was trippy and wonderful.
Vitali: We asked a textile curator from the Art Institute to tell us about her interpretation of the artwork.
Erica Warren, Art Institute of Chicago: There really is a very sculptural quality, and even in a lot of them a sense of movement. You can notice this especially on the faces and hands and you will also see in her an evolution of her practice in the works in the exhibition where you can see that she is adding extra layers and sewing more to really create these effects. sculptural.
And they’re made up of all these layers of fabric and pieces, meticulously cut and glued together to form these extraordinary compositions.
Vitali: Butler also pays tribute to AfriCOBRA, the influential Chicago art collective that began in the 1960s.
Butler: I went to Howard University, and our faculty of painting were mostly from the AfriCOBRA group. AfriCOBRA was basically, I would say, one of the visual artistic arms of the Black Power movement, and the philosophy they had was that the artists’ work should reflect the community, and the colors in your palette, the colors that you put in. your palette should reflect an African-American aesthetic. So they took these colors from the African continent, like what textiles looked like, these bright and intense colors in inks.
It’s a glimpse into how African Americans, how blacks would like to be seen and recognized, and I think it ties together what’s going on in the world today. Someone mentioned the other day she said it was interesting that people would feel drawn to your work in some numbers, but if that person was in real life, they might cross the street when they get it. have seen. I hope that my work can inform and educate people and also speak about the sensitivity of people to look at in each person as they pose as a real human being who deserves respect and recognition just like you would look at a work of art. ‘art.
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“Bisa Butler: PortraitsIs on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through September 6. And his work is currently shown on the Merchandise Mart each evening as part of the “Art on the Mart” series.
Follow Marc Vitali on Twitter: @MarcVitaliArts
Note: this story will be updated with a video.