'You can't surveil our souls': Sadie Barnette reclaims her dad's history from the FBI by Ian F. Blair for the Los Angeles Times
The care can be found first in the premise. The couch, the end tables, the art on the walls, the books, the faces in the photos, the candle holders -- each of these articles is intended to show proof of life. Someone, though it's not clear who. A family, surely. Maybe a large one with at least one young daughter. The arrangement of items in the room looks like a memory, but more vivid, less abstract. In a word, real. There's a stack of speakers on the wall with a slightly dented, presumably empty beverage can resting on top. A party was clearly here. One wonders where the function let out to.
Warmth radiates from the work of artist Sadie Barnette. But it's not just present at the crib or in the backyard; it appears in darker, more banal and bureaucratic settings too. Barnette's new exhibition, "Legacy & Legend," which jumps between the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College and Pitzer College Art Galleries, centers on the life of her father, Rodney -- specifically, how he was terrorized, surveilled, intimidated and nearly killed by the FBI and Cointelpro because of his activism with the Black Panthers, Angela Davis and other organizations. In a series of large, 60-by-48-inch drawings that re-create a dossier compiled by the FBI -- a sprawling, 500-page document filled with obvious untruths and innuendo -- Sadie Barnette transforms and reclaims her father's narrative, her family's history.
Together, the drawings and the immersive space -- with the couch -- function as an act of preservation, restoration. "You can surveil all the actions," she tells me. "You can't surveil our souls and our love."
Recently, I caught up with both Barnettes to talk about Sadie's work, "Legacy & Legend," and healing through art and activism. Our conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.