This exhibition—the culmination of Butler's 2022 Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship—celebrates the representation of women and mothers. Featuring work spanning two decades, it includes a new quilt inspired by Gordon Parks's groundbreaking Segregation Story series.
Bisa Butler creates textile works inspired by photographs—portraits composed entirely of fabrics and textiles in vibrant colors and patterns that reimagine and celebrate Black life. Trained as a painter, she shifted to quilt making during her graduate studies, when she made a quilt in honor of her grandmother. She later recalled: “As a child, I was always watching my mother and grandmother sew, and they taught me. I made a portrait quilt for my grandmother when her health was declining, and I have been making quilts ever since.”
"I often find myself thinking of my mother and grandmother, whom I lost years ago, and the words of encouragement or lessons passed down. In recent years, I’ve had to recall their words on a daily basis.
Mothers are our first caretakers, our first nurturers and teachers. As mothers we labor to bring children into the world and labor to provide all their needs. This labor is rarely rewarded but is one of the biggest gifts a human being can receive. One might think that in our society this would designate women as the most revered of people, but that is not the case.
Millions of women worldwide are denied access to education, health services, and economic opportunities. They experience reduced access to food, live in fear of gender-based violence, and are more likely to face extreme poverty. When race is factored in, the statistics worsen—African American women have a maternal mortality rate that is two times higher than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, and the highest among women in developed countries.
This rumination drew me to the works of Gordon Parks and his view of African American women and mothers. Through his eyes I saw beauty, delicacy, loyalty, intelligence, and strength. He depicted women the way I see them, with reverence and respect. His photographsurged me to try to do the same.
African American women and mothers deserve to be seen, heard, paid, and protected. They must be thanked and acknowledged for all they have done and continue to do. We need Black women."
–Bisa Butler, 2023
Bisa Butler was born in 1973 in Orange, New Jersey, the daughter of a college president and a French teacher. Butler earned her BFA at Howard University, Washington, DC, and her MA in arts education at Montclair State University, New Jersey. Butler taught art in high schools in New Jersey for over ten years. In February 2021 she was awarded a United States Artist fellowship. She has exhibited in group and solo shows across the United States as well as in China, England, Japan, and South Africa. Most recently, she was featured in a solo exhibition that traveled from the Katonah Museum of Art to the Art Institute of Chicago. Butler’s work is in the collections of, among others, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Nelson-Atkins Museum, the Kemper Museum of Art, the Orlando Museum of Art, the Newark Museum, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Butler is a 2022 Gordon Parks Foundation Fellow.