Skip to Content

Bisa Butler

Bisa Butler

Bisa Butler, 2020. Photograph by John Butler. Courtesy of Bisa and John Butler.

Also known as
Mailissa Yamba Butler
Date of birth

Bisa Butler creates arresting portraits—composed entirely of vibrantly colored and patterned fabrics—that reimagine and celebrate narratives of Black life. 

Butler often works with photographs as source images, reimagining the figures captured as attentive portraits with layers of color and stitched details. She strategically selects fabrics, using the history or imagery of the prints to reinforce the stories she wants to communicate in each quilt. Layering materials and meanings, Butler brings to life personal and historical narratives of Black life and invites viewers to look closely and think deeply about the potential and purposes of portraiture.

Butler’s work has been shaped by a variety of influences and experiences, key among them family photo albums, the philosophies of AfriCOBRA (the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists, established in Chicago in the late 1960s), Romare Bearden’s collages, Faith Ringgold’s mixed-media quilts, and Gordon Parks’s photographs. Butler earned her BFA at Howard University, Washington, DC, and her MA in arts education at Montclair State University, New Jersey. Trained as a painter, she shifted to quiltmaking during her graduate studies, when she made a quilt in honor of her grandmother. She has exhibited in group and solo shows across the United States as well as in China, England, Japan, and South Africa.

In 2019, the Art Institute of Chicago acquired The Safety Patrol and in 2020 will host the first solo museum exhibition of Butler’s work Bisa Butler: Portraits.

Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions