Photo: Margaret Fox for the Art Institute of Chicago
Artist Bisa Butler creates incredible quilts of Black families that are akin to a photo album. The textile portraits—many of them massive in size—feature men, women, and children who are seen in black and white photographs and are now reimagined in colorful fabric by Butler. The quilts tell their own stories of these people who, before this, were completely overlooked in history. They touch on themes of family, community, and legacies left. We have marveled overher work for years, and now, Butler’s quilts are on display at the Art Institute of Chicago in her first solo museum exhibition titled Bisa Butler: Portraits.
The show at the Art Institute of Chicago includes over 20 portraits created in her signature style. Working from historic images, Butler layers fabric like you would paint to create bold portraits that have a technicolor realism to them. Depending on the composition, some are cast in electric hues while others are in cool tones.
In a recent episode of the My Modern Met Top Artist podcast, Bulter spoke with us about how selecting such fabric allows her to imagine “what if” with her subjects; the material allows the viewer to see what she sees when she looks at the reference photographs. This often tells a story within a story, as the artist will find fabric with motifs and symbols that are relevant to the people she is depicting. The result is multilayered—both literally and figuratively.