Sadie Barnette: Legacy & Legend Presented as Two-Venue Exhibition

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The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College in Pomona, Calif., and Pitzer College Art Galleries in Claremont, Calif., open a two-venue exhibition of Sadie Barnette: Legacy & Legend, featuring new works by Sadie Barnette (Art BFA 06). The exhibitions run concurrently from July 22 to Dec. 19, 2021.

Described as the artist’s “most ambitious exhibition to date,” Sadie Barnette: Legacy & Legend includes drawings, installations, and photographs that “explore intimate family narratives within global discourses on race and power.” The exhibition marks the third collaboration between the Benton and the Pitzer College Art Galleries and is curated by Benton Senior Curator Rebecca McGrew and Pitzer Director Ciara Ennis. 

“Sadie Barnette’s compelling project fulfills our curatorial vision of presenting exhibitions that challenge our audiences to think creatively and critically about social issues,” stated McGrew. “We are thrilled to present Barnette’s work, which commemorates historical struggles for human potential while holding space for emancipatory futures,” Ennis added.

Barnette’s works exhibited at the Benton evolved from her 2017 work Dear 1968,…, which focused on the FBI’s surveillance dossier on her father Rodney Ellis Barnette, a lifelong activist and founder of the Compton chapter of the Black Panther Party. The 500-page report catalogs the FBI’s tactics to intimidate the elder Barnette and his community. These latest works from Barnette’s FBI Drawings series are large-scale, hand-brushed graphite drawings of pages from the dossier, adorned with Barnette’s images of “roses and other decorative domestic items to honor, memorialize, and reclaim her family’s life.” The artist’s signature use of holographic objects and glittery pink painted walls also prominently feature in the exhibition. 

Accompanying the Benton’s exhibition is the first major catalogue of the artist’s work, edited by Ennis and McGrew. The forthcoming publication features essays by Whitney Museum of American Art curator Rujeko Hockley, Ennis and McGrew, and new texts by Barnette.

At Pitzer, themes of resilience and reclamation are similarly echoed in Barnette’s immersive living room installation including photos, drawings, speakers, and a sofa furbished in holographic upholstery. Barnette celebrates community while addressing present-day efforts to confront systemic racism with touches of spray paint and glitter, as well as a custom-designed wallpaper.

Barnette will present gallery talks at both institutions on Saturday, Nov. 6, and will also be in conversation with her father and activist Ericka Huggins on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

Barnette is an Oakland, Calif.-based multimedia artist whose biography characterizes her practice as “illuminat[ing] her own family history as it mirrors a collective history of repression and resistance in the United States.” Barnette’s work hangs in the permanent collections of various institutions, including LACMA, Los Angeles; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; California African American Museum, Los Angeles; Berkeley Art Museum; Oakland Museum of California; Pérez Art Museum, Miami; Studio Museum in Harlem; and Brooklyn Museum. 

Recently, Barnette’s Untitled (People’s World) was acquired by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The diptych depicts two pages from her father’s aforementioned 500-page FBI surveillance files, exposing the “fearful realities of state violence” concealed within the bureau’s veneer of bureaucratic language as it described personal details of his daily life. Vibrant splashes of pink aerosol spray paint across the pages visually insert the artist into her father’s history, presenting yet another reclamation of the Rodney Barnette “from that of an investigative subject to that of a man, a father, and a citizen activist.”

Sadie Barnette, Untitled (People’s World), Diptych, Archival pigment prints on Epson Hot Press Bright paper, 27.5 x 21.25 inches per sheet, Edition of 5, 2018. Collection Walker Art Center, McKnight Acquisition Fund, 2021
PUBLISHED BY Taya Zoormandan

As digital content and social media producer, Taya enjoys lifting up the stories and accomplishments of CalArts' students, alums, and faculty. She fancies herself a visual artist but is really more of an overzealous collector of art supplies.

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