Sadie Barnette: Legacy & Legend, a partnership between the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College and Pitzer College Art Galleries, is the artist’s most ambitious exhibition to date. The Benton will exhibit a major new body of work that expands upon themes the artist has explored in an earlier project, Dear 1968,… (2017), and Pitzer will show an installation featuring Barnette’s signature reimagining of domestic spaces as futuristic, other-worldly locations of liberation and restoration.
Dear 1968,… focused on the 500-page surveillance dossier amassed by the FBI on the artist’s father, Rodney Barnette, who founded the Compton chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1968 and was a lifelong activist in the Black liberation movement. This dossier reveals the intimidation tactics that the FBI used to harass the elder Barnette and his community as a whole. In this earlier project, the artist reclaimed these files by adorning them with bright pink spray paint, glitter, and rhinestones in the spirit of youthful graffiti. Her embellishments transformed symbols of oppression into emblems of a community’s strength and resilience.
At the Benton, Barnette will present new work from her FBI Drawings series, the most recent iteration of her continued interrogation of the FBI files. These 60-by-48 inch drawings, in densely applied graphite on stark white paper, enlarge and invert complete pages from the FBI dossier. To them Barnette adds images of roses and other decorative domestic items to honor, mourn, memorialize, and reclaim life. For Barnette, the labor-intensive process of hand-brushing layers of graphite becomes, in the artist’s words, “drawing as incantation, cast for healing and real justice … evidence of a fierce love.” The exhibition will also feature Barnette’s trademark glittering pink wall paint and holographic objects.
Pitzer College Art Galleries will present an installation of an immersive living room created by Barnette that incorporates drawings, sculptures, found objects, photographs, seating arrangements, and sound systems that have been adorned with holographic vinyl, glitter, aerosol paint, and wallpaper. Oscillating between the past and present, these elements invoke familial and community histories and present-day experiences.
With these powerful new bodies of work on exhibit at the Benton Museum of Art and Pitzer College Art Galleries, Barnette gestures toward a recuperative and emancipatory space for imagining alternative futures. She reclaims the records of a repressive past and situates her father’s activism in the social history of California and the global histories of repression and resistance, making the intimate bond between father and daughter into an artistic practice that reveals quintessential American truths.