Honorees and Distinguished Speakers

2022 Porter Colloquium Honorees and Distinguished Speakers

Betye Saar photo portrait

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient
Betye Saar

Born in 1926, Betye Saar is renowned for her thought-provoking works surrounding racism as it impacts Black people in the world, paired with spirituality and mysticism. She earned her B.A. in 1949 studying design at UCLA, and also earned a degree in education and printmaking from California State University at Long Beach. Her paintings, etchings, and intaglio developed into assemblage by the late 1960s, inspired by Joseph Cornell. Her pieces challenged stereotypes and bias, highlighting the false narratives Black people are subjected to. By the 1970s her installations became the size of entire rooms, with interactive elements for viewers such as adding their own objects to the piece. This is a communal practice Saar attributes to African cultures. Moving into the 21st century, Saar revisited art concepts regarding racism. Her work has been included in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Lilian Thomas Burwell

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient
Lilian Thomas Burwell, Washington D.C.

Born in Washington D.C. in 1927, lover of the arts Lilian Thomas Burwell attended High School of Music and Art in New York City. Though she did not finish her high school diploma there, once received, she continued her studies at the Pratt Institute. She earned her B.A. from the D.C. Teacher’s College and her M.F.A. in 1975 from Catholic University. Encouraged by her aunts, Burwell became an art educator, teaching at schools such as Pratt Institute and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. Burwell appreciated the arts, and rightfully began pursuit of her own art career outside of being an instructor. Her works have been featured around the world. In 1983, Burwell founded the Alma Thomas Memorial Gallery where she served as Curatorial Director for the next year. Burwell is well published, the author of several art articles, and the recipient of several awards throughout her lifetime. She also served on the Board of Directors of the Smithsonian Institution Renwick Alliance and the Arlington Arts Center, and as the Curatorial Director of the Summer Museum Archives in Washington, D.C.

Alvia Wardlaw portrait photo

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient
Dr. Alvia Wardlaw

Dr. Alvia Wardlaw has long been a connoisseur of African, African American, Modern and Contemporary art. She achieved her A.B. degree in art history from Wellesley College in 1969, then later her M.A. in art history with an emphasis on African American art from New York University. Her career as an instructor began at Texas Southern University in 1972, after she had finished an internship at the Studio Museum in Harlem and been employed at the Museum of Natural History. In 2010, Wardlaw was awarded the Wellesley College Alumnae Achievement Award, the highest honor bestowed by her alma mater to an alumna, for her outstanding contributions to the field of American art.

Dr. Wardlaw is a second generation professor at Texas Southern University. Her father, Professor Alvin Wardlaw, was chair of the Mathematics Department and then served as Budget Director of the university for sixty-three years. As Professor of Art History in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, Dr. Wardlaw has mentored countless art majors, helping them to secure positions and internships at such institutions as the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Mellon Foundation; the University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania; the Orange Show Foundation, Houston; and Southern University at New Orleans. As Director/Curator of the University Museum at Texas Southern University, Wardlaw has organized over forty exhibitions at the museum including the acclaimed exhibition Traces of Confucius where she and the museum staff collaborated with the Texas Southern University Confucius Institute to bring the exhibition to Houston from the University of Maryland. She was instrumental in developing community programming for the exhibition including a concert of traditional Chinese and African American music as well as a Family Day where children and their parents learned the Chinese language, practiced calligraphy, experienced a Tai Chi demonstration and played traditional games of China. This program was repeated recently at the museum for the Confucius Institute Day on campus. Dr. Wardlaw is working closely with the National Museum of Tanzania to bring art and artifacts from that country to the University Museum.

Sparling Williams

James A. Porter Book Award Recipient
Stephanie Sparling Williams, PhD

Stephanie Sparling Williams was recently appointed Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Before joining the Brooklyn Museum, she was the Associate Curator at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, and a Visiting Lecturer in Art History and Africana Studies at Mount Holyoke College. Prior to her appointments at Mount Holyoke, she was the Assistant Curator at the Addison Gallery of American Art, and in 2016-2017, she was the John Walsh Fellow at the Yale University Art Gallery. Sparling Williams has taught interdisciplinary courses on American Art, Art and African Americans, Latinx Art, and Museums and Exhibitions at Phillips Academy, Andover; the University of Massachusetts, Lowell; Eastern Connecticut State University, and Mount Holyoke College.

Sparling Williams’s exhibition, research, and teaching interests include American and African American art and cultural history; histories of exclusion and strategies of address within art institutions; feminist, phenomenological, and intersectional approaches to art historical research and writing; and contemporary art that engages the American past. As a collections curator, Sparling Williams has been responsible for several notable acquisition initiatives, as well as innovative permanent collection reinstallations. She has also organized special exhibitions including Proposition, Form, Gesture: Modern & Contemporary Art from the MHCAM Collection (2020); Wayfinding: Contemporary Arts, Critical Dialogues, and the Sidney R. Knafel Map Collection, with Allison Kemmerer (2020) at the Addison Gallery of American Art; Harlem: In Situ (2019), also at the Addison; From America to Americas (2018), sponsored by the Tang Institute at Phillips Academy; Color & Device: Contemporary Art in the Addison’s Collection (2018), and Gun Country (2018).

Sparling Williams is the recent recipient of the inaugural Mary Ann Unger Estate Fellowship (2020); the Association of Art Museum Curator’s Mentorship Award (2019); and the Brace Center Faculty Fellowship in Gender Studies at Phillips Academy (2019). She holds a M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies and Ethnicity, and a certificate in Visual Studies from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She holds a B.A. in Fine Art and Ethnic Studies from the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Sparling Williams has published a monographic study on feminist conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady, and over two dozen academic articles, reviews, and catalogue essays. Her book on O’Grady, Speaking Out of Turn: Lorraine O’Grady and the Art of Language is published by University of California Press, and is the recipient of the 32nd Annual James A. Porter Book Award on African American Art and Art of the African Diaspora at Howard University.  

Speaking Out of Turn is the first monograph dedicated to the forty-year oeuvre of Lorraine O’Grady. Examining O’Grady’s use of language, both written and spoken, Sparling Williams charts the artist’s strategic use of direct address—the dialectic posture her art takes in relationship to its viewers—to trouble the field of vision and claim a voice in the late 1970s through the 1990s, when her voice was seen as “out of turn” in the art world. Speaking Out of Turn situates O’Grady’s significant contributions within the history of American conceptualism and performance art while also attending to the work’s heightened visibility in the contemporary moment, revealing both the marginalization of O’Grady in the past and an urgent need to revisit her art in the present.

Sarah Lewis portrait photo

Opening Lecture
Sarah Lewis, PhD, Associate professor at Harvard University in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and the Department of African and African American Studies

Sarah Elizabeth Lewis is an associate professor of history of art and architecture and African and African American studies at Harvard University and the founder of The Vision & Justice Project. Her research focuses on the intersection of visual representation, racial justice, and democracy in the United States from the nineteenth century through the present. Her books and edited volumes include The Rise, translated into seven languages, Carrie Mae Weems, which won the 2021 Photography Network Book Prize, and “Vision & Justice” by Aperture magazine which received the 2017 Infinity Award for Critical Writing and Research from the International Center of Photography. In 2019, Lewis received the Freedom Scholar Award, presented by The Association for the Study of African American Life and History for her body of work and its “direct positive impact on the life of African-Americans.”

Her forthcoming publications include Caucasian War: How Race Changed Sight in America (Harvard University Press, 2023), Vision & Justice (One World/Random House, 2024), and Groundwork: Race and Aesthetics in the Era of Stand Your Ground Law (Spring 2023). The article on which Groundwork is based, published in Art Journal (Winter 2020), won the 2022 Arthur Danto/ASA Prize from the American Philosophical Association for “the best paper in the field of aesthetics, broadly understood.” A frequent speaker at universities and conferences, including TED and SXSWedu, she has had op-eds, commentary, and profiles of her work published in outlets including The New York Times, Aperture, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Boston Globe. Lewis’s research has received fellowship and grant support from the Ford Foundation, the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University, the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, the Whiting Foundation, the Lambent Foundation, and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.

Before joining the faculty at Harvard, she held curatorial positions at The Museum of  Modern Art, New York and the Tate Modern, London. She also served as a Critic at Yale University School of Art. Lewis currently serves on the boards of Thames & Hudson Inc., Creative Time, Harvard Design Press, Civil War History journal, and the Yale University Honorary Degrees Committee. Her past board service includes the Andy Warhol Foundation of the Visual Arts, The Brearley School, and The CUNY Graduate Center. She received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, an M. Phil from Oxford University, an M.A. from Courtauld Institute of Art, and her Ph.D. from Yale University. She lives in New York City and Cambridge, MA.

Bisa Butler portrait photo

Floyd Coleman Distinguished Lecture: Bisa Butler, Fiber Artist
“Bisa Butler: Quilts and Inheritance”

​Bisa Butler was born in Orange, NJ, the daughter of a college president and a French teacher. She was raised in South Orange and 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 Al Smith Jr. 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 10 years in the Newark Public Schools and 3 years at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Most recently, in 2022, Bisa Butler was awarded a Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship and was awarded a United States Artist fellowship in 2021. Butler’s work was the focus of a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, the second stop of a traveling exhibit which began at the Katonah Museum of Art. Many institutions and museums have acquired Bisa Butler’s work including; The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, The Smithsonian Museum of American Art and Renwick Gallery, The Perez Museum of Miami, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The Nelson-Adkins Museum, 21cMuseum Hotels, The Kemper Museum of Art, The Orlando Museum of Art, The Newark Museum, The Toledo Museum of Art, The Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Hunter Museum of American Art, and The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Copeland portrait photo

James A. Porter Distinguished Lecture
Huey Copeland, PhD, BFC Presidential Associate Professor, History of Art, University of Pennsylvania
"Conditions Reporting"

Huey Copeland’s interdisciplinary work explores African/Diasporic, American, and European art from the late eighteenth century to the present with an emphasis on articulations of blackness in the Western visual field. In particular, his research homes in on the vexed intersections of race and gender, subject and object, the aesthetic and its others from a black feminist perspective that aims to put pressure on the blind spots and conventions of modernist art history.

An editor of OCTOBER and a contributing editor of Artforum, Copeland has published in numerous periodicals as well as in international exhibition catalogues and essay collections such as the groundbreaking anthology Histórias Afro-Atlânticas produced by the Museu de Arte de Saõ Paulo. Notable among his publications is Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America, a book funded by a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program Grant and published in 2013 by the University of Chicago Press, that has since been reviewed in over a dozen national and international forums, including Culture Type, Art Journal, Small Axe, and Black Canadian Studies. Focused on the work of Renée Green, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson and Fred Wilson, the project considered how slavery shaped American art in the last decades of the 20th century in arguing for a radical reorientation of the humanities toward the matter of blackness.

Copeland is now at work on two volumes that further interrogate the imbrication of the racial and the aesthetic: The Black Modernisms Seminars Papers, an anthology co-edited with Steven Nelson and commissioned by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts; and In the Shadow of the Negress: A Brief History of Modern Artistic Practice in the Transatlantic World, a monograph exploring the constitutive role played by fictions of black womanhood in Western art. He is also refining a related essay collection with Chicago—currently entitled ‘Touched by the Mother’: On Black Men in American Art from Watts to the Whitney—that brings together many of his new and previously published writings and that has already been recognized with the 2017 Absolut Art Writing Award, intended to support “transformative projects by the world’s most creative talent.”

Copeland's research interests are reflected by his course offerings, which have ranged from an introductory survey focused on Euro-American modernisms and their global entanglements to the graduate seminar “ Appropriation (North and South),” conceptualized in collaboration with leading South African critic Athi Mongezeleli Joja. In addition, Copeland has served as primary advisor for dissertations exploring: the tension between primitivism and cosmopolitanism in twentieth-century African American painting; the third world guerilla as a model for American performance artists in the long 1970s; “post-black” as a critical fulcrum for reframing African diasporic temporalities and geographies; early 21st-century Chinese art’s literal and figurative haunting by socialist realist aesthetics; the intersection of the racial and the ecological in nineteenth-century Francophone Caribbean visual culture; and the politics of death in black South African visual and performing arts during and after apartheid. Alongside his work as a teacher, critic, editor, scholar, and administrator, he has co-curated exhibitions such as Interstellar Low Ways (with Anthony Elms), and co-organized international conferences like “Afro-Pessimist Aesthetics” (with Sampada Aranke).

An alumnus of the Whitney Independent Study Program, Copeland received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2006; prior to arriving at Penn, he taught at Northwestern University for 15 years. His work has received support from the American Council of Learned Societies, l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center for American Modernism, the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, and the Terra Foundation for American Art where he now serves on the Board of Directors. In 2019, his contributions to the field were recognized by the High Museum of Art with the David C. Driskell Prize in African American Art and Art History. Currently, he is Andrew W. Mellon Professor at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.