Weaving African-American lives

Bisa Butler is an artist of Ghanaian descent who tells African-American stories through her portrait quilts. Her exhibit, “Bisa Butler: Portraits,” at the Katonah Museum of Art through June 14, has been interrupted by the pandemic. But you can enjoy a virtual tour, one that reminds us that intimacy is always available in the arts.

Here’s what the museum had to say about one work, fitting for this time of year and emblematic of the importance of dressing for Sunday worship in the black Christian community:

‘The Tea’ is based on a photograph taken on Easter Sunday outside the still-extant St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church on the South Side of Chicago by the photographer Russell Lee in 1941. Butler abstracts the original photograph’s background and brings the women to the fore as poised and distinct individuals. Her addition of rich, striking colors and patterns help characterize them as part of a thriving, black middle-class in Chicago. The women’s shared comfort with one another and their intimate bonds are suggested by the close circle they form as they spill “the tea”—an African-American vernacular term synonymous with gossip or hidden truth. Butler creates a beautiful moment of strong black female friendship and community, leaving us to wonder if we can be included in the tea, or not.”

– Georgette Gouveia


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