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What does black liberation look like? Is it the non-violent protest of Martin Luther King Jr. or the armed resistance of the Black Panthers? The sci-fi Afrofuturism of free-jazz legend Sun Ra, or the glittering, pink bedroom of a young African-American girl? For Sadie Barnette, the answer to all these questions is “yes,” and more. To accomplish this, Barnette brings together mass media images and personal family photos alongside drawings, collages, and assemblages. The results are at once seemingly straightforward and hard to reign in, branching off in myriad directions that can seem unfocused at moments, but never dull.
Her second solo show at Charlie James Gallery, Black Sky, is like a multi-generational family scrapbook that intersects with iconic developments in black history, spanning from the late ’60s—when her father founded the Compton chapter of the Black Panther Party, inviting federal scrutiny—to her own childhood growing up in Oakland in the late ’80s and ’90s. In the main space, where windows have been covered with pink gels, an enlarged snapshot, Untitled (Winfield Street) (all works 2018), pictures four children sitting in a ’70s dining room. Two large candlesticks placed on the floor in front of the framed photograph turn a personal homage to family into a more universal (and unfortunately, timely) memorial for young, black lives lost. Barnette also blew up pages from her father’s lengthy FBI file for Untitled (Agitator Index), on which she redacted words with sparkling holographic rectangles. An ominous surveillance document becomes a playful, rhythmic poem.
Striking a contrasting tone, the downstairs gallery has been transformed by the artist into a domestic space featuring bright pink walls and carpet, anchored by a shimmering, space-age couch covered in holographic upholstery. The objects and images arranged around the gallery’s periphery chart a course between childhood innocence and radical activism: Untitled (Black Sky), a still-life on a shelf, features a black power fist afro pick, copies of Toni Morrison’s Jazz, a black scratch-off card, and a pink polka-dot ribbon.
Barnette’s assemblages of often appropriated items walk a line between directness and a more complex dynamic that develops from their layering. Juxtapositions of the familiar and mass produced lead to a personal narrative. Barnette’s remix of her father’s activism with snippets of her own childhood and family history offer an expansive vision of black liberation much wider than that represented in any of the popular media she samples.
Sadie Barnette: Black Sky runs from October 20–December 22, 2018 at Charlie James Gallery (969 Chung King Rd., Los Angeles, CA 90012).