The World is Yours is the title of American artist Bisa Butler’s first solo exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch. At Jeffrey Deitch’s 18 Wooster Street space in New York, Bisa Butler presents portraits of Black Americans for which she uses layered fabrics and appliqués to create textured surfaces, saturated colors and vibrant patterns. In her new works, Butler combines Nigerian hand-dyed batiks and African wax-resist cotton with holographic vinyl-fabric, silk, wool, velvet and lace. Her subjects are sourced from iconic contemporary photographers like Gordon Parks, Janette Beckman and Jamel Shabazz. Bisa Butler’s solo exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch New York runs until June 30, 2023.
Bisa Butler: The World Is Yours. Jeffrey Deitch, 18 Wooster Street, New York. New York City, May 13, 2023.
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It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine
Whose world is this?
The world is yours, the world is yours
— Nas, 1994
Bisa Butler’s exhibition, The World Is Yours, is at once a benediction and a mantra inspired by the lyrics of a song by the rapper Nas. In Butler’s words:
I am saying to all people who may have been mistreated through acts of prejudice and racism that this world also belongs to them. In fact, this world belongs to all of us, and it always has. The statement “The World Is Yours” encourages people to stay the course and never stop trying to create the life they envision.
African Americans have overcome tremendous odds to build their communities and customs despite pervasive obstacles, and I want the new generation to keep up that fight. In the 1800s, Sojourner Truth said: “I will not allow my life’s light to be determined by the darkness around me.” If she, a woman born into bondage and then escaped with a small child, could shine a light on the evils of slavery and inspire people to action, then we have no choice but to do the same.
Through her dynamic, celebratory portraits of Black Americans, Butler captures vividly the life and history of a people who are part of the American mosaic. Realized in a medium that both evokes the intimate sense of home and captures the collective dimension of a shared tradition, Butler’s quilts can be situated in the lineage of celebrated textile artists like Faith Ringgold, Romare Bearden, Harriet Powers and the quilters of Gee’s Bend, who elevated the ubiquitous artifact and centuries-old craft to an art form able to shine a light on the experience of African Americans. Through her subject matter and technique, Butler’s work expands the parameters of art history.
In her quilts, Butler introduces elements of painting and photography. Although her finished works are made entirely of textiles, she approaches the medium from a painterly perspective. Butler uses layered fabrics and appliqués to create textured surfaces, saturated colors and vibrant patterns that she found missing from most 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. The stories told by Butler’s quilts, their fibers, colors and motifs interweave with the histories of industrial production, international trade and social change.
Butler’s new body of work represents some of her first collaborative quilted portraits. Her subjects are sourced from iconic contemporary photographers like Gordon Parks, Janette Beckman and Jamel Shabazz. “They captured the spirit of their subjects on film,” says Butler, “and I strive to reinterpret and add to their vision with textiles. The quilts become a conversation between the photographer, the subject, myself and the audience.”
Bisa Butler (b. 1973) lives in South Orange and works in Jersey City, New Jersey. She earned her BFA in painting at Howard University, Washington, D.C. and holds a MA in Teaching Art from Montclair State University, New Jersey. Her work has been exhibited widely, both domestically and internationally. In 2020, Portraits at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Katonah Museum of Art was the artist’s first institutional solo exhibition. Her quilts have been prominently featured in Black American Portrait at LACMA, Los Angeles (2022) and Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2021), and their exhibition catalogs. Her work can be found in the permanent collection of several North American institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago; The Smithsonian American Museum of Art; and The Pérez Art Museum, Miami. Butler is the recipient of the 2022 Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship. The World Is Yours is Bisa Butler’s first solo exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch.