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Sadie Barnette: Family Business

Sadie Barnette, "FBI Drawings: Legal Ritual," 2021
Friday, April 28, 2023 - 12:00pm to Sunday, August 27, 2023 - 5:00pm
Institute of the Arts and Sciences: 100 Panetta Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Presented by: 
Institute of the Arts and Sciences

Across two venues, the Institute of the Arts and Sciences and San José Museum of Art, Sadie Barnette: Family Business explores the carceral state’s reach into the intimate world of the family.

At the IAS, on view is a suite of large scale drawings reclaiming and reworking file from the dossier compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation about Barnette’s father’s activities as the founder of the Compton chapter of the Black Panther Party. The 500-page surveillance file amassed on her father, Rodney Barnette, which serves as the material for Barnette’s manipulations, reveals that his everyday movements and activities were under constant surveillance. Barnette creates monumental and painstaking graphite drawings of these clinical documents, covering them with roses and Hello Kitty profiles, adding a layer of joy and intimacy to these records of state-sanctioned terror. At once tender and terrifying, the FBI Drawings suggest ways of imagining repair and renewal outside of the political structures that artificially delimit freedom. 

The newly commissioned film and installation at SJMA continues this exploration by Barnette into her family history as a mirror into a collective history of repression and resistance in the United States. Barnette transforms the museum into a fantasy domestic space, complete with glitter vinyl covered furniture and family photographs hung on the wall. The gallery turned into a living room serves as a reminder that domestic spaces—like the streets—are also the backdrop of Black history in the U.S. Homes are where protests are planned, relationships nurtured, and where Black families love and thrive on a daily basis. This is an alternate history of Black America, outside of state control, which Barnette manifests, with space for relationships, love, family, and hope—all which make up the fullness of human experience despite being omitted from official state documents and histories.

Sadie Barnette: Family Business is a multi-sited exhibition curated by Gina Dent, Lauren Schell Dickens, and Rachel Nelson as part of Visualizing Abolition, a multi-year Mellon-funded initiative exploring art, prisons, and justice.


Institute of the Arts and Sciences Galleries
100 Panetta Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

San José Museum of Art 
110 South Market St, San José, CA 95113


  • Free parking is available at the Institute of Arts and Sciences Galleries.
  • Accessible parking on High Rd.