What fingerprints do we leave behind that tell the story of who we are? Bisa Butler has taken that sentiment to heart by creating jaw-dropping quilted masterpieces that not only celebrate her culture but stitch a story for future generations to be proud of! So very often, it’s these cultural artifacts that educate us more than history books.
Take a look at an image of Bisa Butler’s work and you are immediately struck with the depth of color. It’s unlike anything most of us have ever seen. Stunning portraits of people, ordinary and world-famous, rendered in dazzling color. Look a little closer, though, and your jaw drops further: these portraits aren’t painted in oil or delicate watercolor; they are crafted from fabric, quilted together to create stunning works of art!
But Bisa’s work isn’t just awe-inspiring; it has a message and a deeper meaning that can resonate with any one of us. It’s a reminder that what we create, the stories we tell, and the heritage we pass on will live long, long after we are gone!
How would you feel if you saw yourself or your favorite hero stitched in such a beautiful light? I know I would stand a little taller, and feel proud to see myself represented in such a stunning way.
For Bisa Butler, representing her own community and culture in a positive light as a Black American is central to why she does her work.
As a fine arts student at Howard University, a historically Black university, she was educated by artists who helped found the powerful AfriCOBRA arts movement. This movement started in Chicago, and its founders set out to create positive and consciousness-raising images that spoke to the needs of Black people, particularly the need for better representation of Black culture and life. 1
Drawing on the deep roots of African American quilting heritage, her first quilted pieces she worked from images of her own family, but as her artistic voice grew, she turned to depression-era images taken by Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, and others, and began quilting her portraits in life size. 2
“You have a responsibility to educate your people, you have a responsibility to have your people shown in a positive light.” —Bisa Butler
To hear Bisa speak about her work is beautiful, and is a reminder of why art endures as a medium for documenting our history and facilitating storytelling. In this interview with Sok.Vision, she will have you looking at the art you love, and the stories you leave behind, with new eyes.
Sok.Vision has another great interview with Bisa that you can find on their YouTube channel! Make sure you check out that piece, too!
“I see how much responsibility you have as an artist. You are the reflection of our times. So whether you’re a writer, a dancer, filmmaker, painter, or sculptor…You are reflecting the times that we live in, and after you’re gone, all that is left is that reflection.” —Bisa Butler
What role do artists play in telling our history?
How would we think about the lives impacted by the depression without Dorothea Lange’s portrait of a mother and her children? Would any of us know about the Trojan War if we didn’t read Homer’s Iliad? Just think about all of the artistic artifacts that fill the world’s museums!
What does your favorite piece of art say about the person who made it? Why does it draw you in? What do you love about it? Do you see yourself in some way in the words of that poem, in the strokes of that painting, the lyrics of that song, or the characters in that play?
Sometimes we forget the powerful role art plays in helping us make sense of the world. It influences us in ways we don’t even realize. That is, until artists like Bisa Butler come along and remind us of what great art and great representation can mean. Art can change our perspective on the world, even if we aren’t an “art” person!
If you want a little proof, here are a few of my favorite artists and their world-expanding work:
So, go out, find the art that speaks to you, and if you’re so inclined, make it yourself! We all have a story to tell, and who knows how our own story could lift up another person!
Stay beautiful & keep laughing!
Start every day off on the right foot!
- Gean Moreno. “‘AfriCOBRA: Messages to the People.’” ARTnews.Com, ARTnews.com, Mar. 2019, www.artnews.com/art-in-america/aia-reviews/africobra-messages-to-the-people-62630/. Accessed 27 Aug. 2020. ↩
- Logan, Liz. “Artist Bisa Butler Stitches Together the African American Experience.” Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, 24 July 2020, www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/bisa-butler-stitches-together-quilts-african-american-experience-180975397/. Accessed 27 Aug. 2020. ↩
- Sok.Vision. “Quilting for the Culture, Bisa Butler.” YouTube, 6 June 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=_P3_61nh3xo&feature=emb_title. Accessed 27 Aug. 2020. ↩