New Event Recording: Bisa Butler Shares Her Moment

By Marina Moskowitz, Lynn and Gary Mecklenburg Chair in Textiles, Material Culture, and Design at the School of Human Ecology

Professor Marina Moskowitz shares the CDMC’s latest event recording and highlights moments from the 2021 Harris Lecture featuring textile artist Bisa Butler.

Zoom screen shot with two large fiber art pieces depicting Chadwick Boseman in multi-colored fabric
Bisa Butler speaks about her portrait of Chadwick Boseman. Pictured: “Forever,” 2020. Cotton, silk, wool and velvet, life-sized artwork. Copyright: Bisa Butler.

The fine art news website Art & Object recently declared “Bisa Butler is Having a Moment.” And on Thursday, March 18th, Bisa Butler was kind enough to share that moment with hundreds of viewers by delivering the 2021 Ruth Ketterer Harris Lecturer, held in conjunction with the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection (HLATC).

Each year since 1992, the Ruth Ketterer Harris Lecture has been an important date on the calendar for the many faculty, students, artists, curators, collectors, and members of the public whose interests unite around textiles. While the Harris Lecture always hosts world-class speakers, it has been primarily a local event—until now. In this year like no other, the HLATC team planned a Harris Lecture like no other! Bisa Butler joined us for a virtual edition of the Harris Lecture, in which she presented both her stunning artwork in the medium of quilts and the inspiring story of her career to date. While the new virtual format was a necessity of our times, we found a silver lining: a global audience of almost 400 people were able to participate; and at the same time, the conversation felt intimate, since we were all taking part from our own homes, including our wonderful speaker!

Seated woman with long hair speaks in an art gallery in front of a multi-colored installation work.
Bisa Butler speaks about her work in the exhibition video for her exhibition “Bisa Butler: Portraits.” Screen grab of video by the Art Institute of Chicago.

Part of Bisa’s “moment” is her first solo museum exhibit, organized jointly by the Katonah Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), where the exhibition is currently open until September 6, 2021. Since few of us have been able to travel as yet to see this exhibit, the AIC was kind enough to share a video walkthrough of the exhibit, allowing the Harris Lecture audience a wonderful preview. Bisa then spoke about her art education, inspiration, and career trajectory, in her own introductory remarks and then in an engaging conversation with Gianofer Fields, currently the Producer-in-Residence at the CDMC. At the end of the conversation, Bisa answered questions from an audience that ranged from 4th graders in a Madison ArtsLab to textile enthusiasts around the globe. Bisa was generous in sharing her ideas on everything from sourcing fabrics to career advice for budding artists, as well as the creative, intellectual, and emotional influences on her work.

We thank Bisa Butler for sharing her moment with us. And, the CDMC is excited to bring this fascinating conversation to an even broader audience by posting a recording of this exciting event in our Digital Hub’s Kaltura channel.

Quilted image of a bearded elderly African-American gentleman wearing a hat.
Side-by-side comparison of Butler’s process featuring her early work. Copyright: Bisa Butler.
Quilted image of a bearded elderly African-American gentleman wearing a hat. with zoom screen showing gianofer fields in the upper right corner
Side-by-side comparison of Butler’s process featuring her later work. Copyright: Bisa Butler.