Activate: Market street 7
Curated by Jo-El Lopez
November 15th – December 19th
@85 Market Street
Bisa Butler has always been drawn to portraits. Butler was the little girl who would sit next to her grandmother and ask her to go through old family photo albums. Bisa was the one who wanted to hear the story behind every picture. This inquisitiveness has stayed with her to this day. Butler often starts her pieces with a black and white photo, and allows herself to tell the story. Bisa’s stories are told in the fabrics that she chooses, the textures she combines, and the colors that create a whole new thing. Bisa’s portraits tell stories that may have been forgotten over time. When you see vintage lace and aged satin it tells you the story of delicacy and refinement of times gone by. When you see African printed cotton and mud cloth it tells the story of Butler’s ancestral homeland, and the cradle of civilization. When you see multi colored organza and netting layered you are being told a story of something or someone colorful and multifaceted.
Each face, each portrait, is an invitation to understand the complexities of the subjects they were based on. Butler wants you to be able to tell the story behind the face simply by observation alone. Imagine you are sitting on that sofa, and you are small again. The story is being told, if you care to listen.
Bisa Butler was born in Orange, NJ and raised in South Orange, the youngest of four siblings. Butler’s artistic talent was first recognized at the age of four, when she won a blue ribbon in the Plainfield Sidewalk art competition. By age five, Butler was named the “artist of the month” at her nursery school. She currently resides in West Orange, New Jersey and is a Newark Public School art teacher.
A formally trained artist, Butler graduated Cum Laude from Howard University, with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art. It was through her education at Howard that Butler was able to refine her natural talents under the tutelage of such lecturers as Lois Mailou Jones, Elizabeth Catlett, and Ernie Barnes. While at Howard, Butler also studied the works of Romare Bearden, Faith Ringgold, and Henry O. Tanner.
While in the process of obtaining her Masters degree on the road to a career as an art teacher, Butler took a Fiber Arts class and a light bulb turned on as she finally realized how to express her art. “As a child, I was always watching my mother and grandmother sew, and they taught me. After that class, I made a quilt for my grandmother on her deathbed, and I have been quilting ever since.”
Bisa has been a part of the nationally renown traveling exhibitions by Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, Textural Rhythms, Constructing the Jazz Traditions, Quilting African American Women’s History and The Journey of Hope in America, quilts inspired by President Barack Obama. Bisa is represented by the Hearne Fine Art gallery of Little Rock, Arkansas.
She has artwork in private and public collections such as the Louis Armstrong House Museum, the Arkansas Art Museum, and the Kinsey Collection. She has exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the United States and internationally. Bisa has been teaching workshops around the country, and has students who come from as far away as Alaska. Recently Bisa Butler had the honor of having her artwork displayed with The Kinsey Collection at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and is currently exhibiting at Walt Disney Worlds Epcot Center. While at Disney, Bisa taught workshops as a part of the Disney Dreamers Academy. Last year Bisa’s quilts were exhibited and featured in an article by the Swedish magazine, Helmslöjd. This year Bisa was the featured artist for the annual Art in The Atrium gallery show in Morristown, New Jersey. The highlight of Bisa’s career was being chosen to exhibit at the Emperors Palace, in Johannesburg South Africa during the International Quilt Expo.