Bisa Butler was born in Orange, NJ, the daughter of a college president and a French teacher. She was raised in South Orange, the youngest of four siblings. Butler’s artistic talent was first recognized at the age of four, when she won a blue ribbon in an art competition.
Formally trained, Butler graduated Cum Laude from Howard University with a Bachelor’s in Fine Art degree. It was during her education at Howard that Butler was able to refine her natural talents under the tutelage of lecturers such as Lois Mailou Jones, Elizabeth Catlett, Jeff Donaldson and Ernie Barnes. She began to experiment with fabric as a medium and became interested in collage techniques. Butler then went on to earn a Masters in Art from Montclair State University in 2005.
While in the process of obtaining her Masters degree Butler took a Fiber Arts class where she had an artistic epiphany and she finally realized how to express her art. “As a child, I was always watching my mother and grandmother sew, and they taught me. After that class, I made a portrait quilt for my grandmother on her deathbed, and I have been making art quilts ever since.”
Bisa Butler was a high school art teacher for 13 years; 10 in the Newark Public Schools and 3 at her own alma mater, Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey.
Butler’s work was most recently the focus of a solo exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York that will subsequently travel to the Art Institute of Chicago. Her works are included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Newark Museum of Art; The Toledo Museum of Art and Orlando Museum of Art, among others.
Butler created this quilt using early twentieth-century icons of Americana: Aunt Jemima and Sawmill Peak and other goods that used black bodies in advertising, to symbolize the lasting effect of the commodification of African American imagery and labor. For the Kinseys, the power of Butler’s image lies in its representations of the four million African Americans who toiled on 75,000 cotton plantations, generating billions of dollars for their owners from their free labor.