OMA Acquires Two New Works by Celebrated Contemporary Artists
Works by Bisa Butler and Kyle Meyer will debut in the collection this summer.
ORLANDO, Fla., June 23, 2020 – The Orlando Museum of Art announced today the acquisition of two new works, by celebrated American artists Bisa Butler and Kyle Meyer. Butler’s quilted wax print fabric piece, "Wangari Maathai," depicts the eponymous Kenyan environmentalist and political activist in vibrant tones, while Kyle Meyer’s "Unidentified 105a" is one in a series of intricate works that interweave wax print fabric with the portraiture of subjects from the LGBTQ+ community in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland). "These works reflect OMA’s commitment to collecting the most progressive art of our time, building a collection that acknowledges and gives a voice to the diverse community served by the museum, and fostering cross-cultural understanding and respect through our platform," said Coralie Claeysen-Gleyzon, associate curator at OMA.
Bisa Butler (American, b. 1975) is an acclaimed fiber artist who portrays mostly unknown African American subjects entirely in quilt, giving them a quiet nobility, a voice and a place in American history. The newly acquired piece, "Wangari Maathai," was commissioned for the cover of March 2020 TIME magazine. In honor of Women’s Month, the magazine selected women who should have been on the cover of TIME but were not, then found the most influential women artists of the moment to depict those women. Butler chose Wangari Maathai, a renowned Kenyan social, environmental and political activist. In 2004, she was the first woman of color to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai also founded the Green Belt Movement, an indigenous, grassroots, nongovernmental organization based in Nairobi, Kenya, that focuses on environmental conservation and community development. Her legacy has been a major force to the world of conservation and continues to inspire activism today.
"Wangari Maathai" is conceptually strong, using fabrics from the textile manufacturer Vlisco’s important Congo project City of Joy, which provides food and shelter to women ostracized by their villages for being victims of war, rape and sexual abuse. To help these survivors heal from past trauma, City of Joy teaches them traditional Dutch wax fabric-making techniques, with the assurance of a job and money to support themselves and their children. Butler has used the fabric designed by these women not only to depict Maathai but to emphasize the importance of community and the sacredness of our planet. The acquisition will provide wonderful opportunities for OMA to engage audiences on themes of sustainability, environmental activism, human rights, the peace movement, community development, the history of quilting as rooted in the African American experience, and the rewriting of history, among many other themes. It also contributes to the museum’s ongoing efforts to diversify its collection with more works by artists of color and women artists.
Kyle Meyer (American, b. 1985) creates visually striking and intricate artworks. As a gay American photographer, Meyer shot his current series, titled “Interwoven,” in eSwatini, where a third of the population is HIV positive and homosexuality is illegal. Portraits from this series reflect an interest in infusing digital photography with traditional Swazi crafts and in giving voice to silenced members of the LGBTQ+ community. Meyer creates intimate portraits of gay men wearing a head wrap, traditionally worn by women, using a vibrantly colored textile that they chose. Each piece from the "Interwoven" series is labor-intensive, taking days or sometimes weeks to complete.
After learning to weave in Swazi factories, Meyer wove the fabric from the headwraps through each printed face, bringing the DNA, sweat, hair of the sitters into the portraits. After producing a large-scale print of the portrait, Meyer hand-shreds strips of the photograph together with the fabric from the head wrap, interweaving the strips into a complexly patterned, three-dimensional unique work. With the final portrait, Meyer presents each man’s individuality and beauty while using the fabric as a screen to protect his identity. This acquisition will provide great opportunities for OMA to engage its audiences on the practice of portraiture and the use of textiles in art, as well as themes pertaining to diversity and the LGBTQ+ community. It will also contribute to the museum’s efforts to diversify its collection with more works by LGBTQ+ artists.
Both works were purchased for OMA with funds provided by Acquisition Trust, a membership-based organization that contributes annual dues to fund the acquisition of contemporary art. Since its founding, Acquisition Trust has acquired 56 artworks for the museum’s permanent collection, including pieces by internationally recognized artists such as Kerry James Marshall, Robert Rauschenberg, Nick Cave, John Chamberlain, Shirin Neshat, Zanele Muholi, and Deborah Roberts, among many others. Thanks to this wonderful organization, OMA’s collection is one of the most significant in the state. Outstanding museum collections are the direct result of philanthropic generosity within a community, and OMA is grateful to the Acquisition Trust and the community at large for investing in the arts.
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Image credit: (LEFT) Bisa Butler, Wangari Maathai, 2020, Quilted Wax Print Fabric, 29 x 18 in. Purchased with funds provided by the Acquisition Trust. © 2020 Bisa Butler. Image courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, New York; (RIGHT) Kyle Meyer, Unidentified 105a, 2019, From the series "Interwoven," Archival Pigment Print Hand Woven with Wax Print Fabric, approx. 90 x 60 in. Purchased with funds provided by the Acquisition Trust. © 2019 Kyle Meyer. Image courtesy of Yossi Milo.