Sequentially arranged in the classic salon tradition across the gallery space, the exhibition begins with the c. 1800 oil portrait of a determined-looking Black man in a jaunty red scarf and blue double-breasted jacket—thought to be sea captain, merchant, and abolitionist Paul Cuffe, a free New Englander from a well-to-do mixed-race family. Given the lack of respectful early depictions of African Americans, the bulk of the exhibition was created by twentieth and twenty-first-century artists.
Fiber artist Bisa Butler tells Art & Object, “I cannot express what it means to me to have been included in the 200 years of black portraiture exhibit. I was able to exhibit with some of the world's most prolific artists from the past and the present. This exhibit represents a space in time where these magnificent artists came together akin to Art Kanes’ photograph, A Great Day In Harlem, and I am honored to be able to say I was there.”
Butler creates quilted portraits, often using found images from historic archives, deliberately selecting colors and fabrics to suggest her subjects’ personalities.
Her gorgeous tribute to film star Chadwick Boseman (1976–2020), Forever, was created “out of love and admiration. That is the way all of my best pieces begin. Chadwick was a larger than life figure—the Black Panther, an activist, a tireless advocate for honor and dignity to his craft and to his people. . . He embodied the best of what I believe will remain long after we are gone; truth and integrity.”