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Bisa Butler: The World Is Yours
May 6–June 30, 2023
18 Wooster Street, New York
Bisa Butler’s exhibition, titled “The World Is Yours,” is a powerful and inspiring collection that serves as both a benediction and a mantra for marginalized communities. Inspired by the lyrics of rapper Nas, Butler’s work aims to convey a message of empowerment and inclusivity. Through her dynamic and celebratory portraits of Black Americans, she captures the vibrant life and rich history of people who have contributed significantly to the American mosaic.
Butler’s quilts, realized in a medium that evokes a sense of intimacy and home, pay homage to the collective dimension of a shared tradition. Her work can be seen in the lineage of renowned textile artists like Faith Ringgold, Romare Bearden, Harriet Powers, and the quilters of Gee’s Bend, who elevated quilting from a ubiquitous artifact to a powerful art form capable of shedding light on the African American experience. In expanding the parameters of art history, Butler’s quilts create a space for the narratives and contributions of African Americans to be acknowledged and celebrated.
One of the remarkable aspects of Butler’s approach is her incorporation of elements from painting and photography into her textile works. While her finished pieces are entirely composed of textiles, she approaches the medium with a painterly perspective. Through the use of layered fabrics and appliqués, she creates textured surfaces, saturated colors, and vibrant patterns that add depth and richness missing from traditional painting techniques. In her new works, Butler combines Nigerian hand-dyed batiks and African wax-resist cotton with holographic vinyl fabric, silk, wool, velvet, and lace. This fusion of materials not only enhances the visual impact of her quilts but also connects them to broader histories of industrial production, international trade, and social change.
Furthermore, Butler’s exhibition showcases some of her first collaborative quilted portraits. Drawing inspiration from iconic contemporary photographers such as Gordon Parks, Janette Beckman, and Jamel Shabazz, she seeks to reinterpret and add to their vision with textiles. The resulting quilts become a conversation between the photographer, the subject, the artist herself, and the audience. By weaving together different perspectives and artistic forms, Butler creates a multi-layered narrative that invites viewers to engage with the stories and experiences depicted in her work.
“The World Is Yours” is a testament to the resilience and creativity of African Americans, who have overcome immense challenges to build vibrant communities and preserve their customs. Bisa Butler’s art serves as a powerful reminder that this world belongs to everyone, regardless of their race or background. Her exhibition is a call to action, urging the new generation to continue the fight for equality and to create the life they envision. Through her captivating quilts, Butler offers a visually stunning and thought-provoking exploration of African American history and culture, expanding the boundaries of art and inspiring audiences to embrace their own stories and potential.
– Lucas Knight