While the fashion industry continues to take a hit as one that contributes heavily to the pollution of the planet, one Brooklyn-based artist is focused on lessening that impact by repurposing fabrics into quilts filled with cultural and artistic significance.
It may not seem like fabric and art directly intertwine, but they do when the artist creates a canvas from vintage and repurposed materials. Bisa Butler, an American textile artist, upcycles the fibers not only to find a use for them, but to tell stories through the people she creates using it.
Each quilt is a passionate retelling of history and culture through a portrait frozen in time. The scraps come together in layers of colors and texture that reflect the personalities of the faces she builds. The completed pieces come alive with emotion and a sense of being that demands attention. More than just the resulting picture, the materials she chooses and how she layers them, give each character depth and personality.
Butler’s evolution from classically trained painter to textile artist is evident in the sweeping, fluid motion of the colors as they blend into each other.
With her efforts to represent African-American heritage her work has been displayed at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the Epcot Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and other venues. She is represented by the Claire Oliver gallery in New York and her art has also caught the attention of publishers, resulting in her quilts being featured in several books.
“I have always been drawn to portraits. I was the little girl who would sit next to my grandmother and ask her to go through her old family photo albums. I was the one who wanted to hear the story behind every picture. This inquisitiveness has stayed with me to this day. I often start my pieces with a black and white photo and allow myself to tell the story. My stories are told in the fabrics that I choose, the textures I combine, and the colors that create a whole new composition. My 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 my 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,” said Bisa Butler.
Images via Claire Oliver Gallery, Harlem