Can you describe what’s going on in the piece? It was made from two pages of 500-page surveillance files the FBI had collected on my father, Rodney Barnette, who, in 1968, founded the Compton chapter of the Black Panther Party. My family filed a FOIA petition in 2011 and about five years later we finally received the file.
Directory is at once chilling, emotional, disturbing, and violent. Surveillance sometimes sounds like a harmless information-gathering process, but it’s often the harassment, intimidation, and provocation of the agent. In 1969, because of his political activities, my father was fired from his post at the post office. My initial reactions to these documents were: One, this is horrifying, and two, I’m lucky my dad is alive and I’m lucky because Me survive. I thought, How can I get this material back? How can I highlight the history of my father and our family, the history of so many other families in this country? So the work is definitely about renovating and repairing to some extent, but it’s not intended to fix the damage. It’s more of a repair journey. Or about fixing as a practice, a meditation.
I make a giant pencil, a machine cuts it out, and then I put it on the paper and I paint the graphite on the surface.. The result looks like a carbon copy. There’s a spooky element to the white on black text. I’m always careful when interacting with source material but not to compete with it – or change any actual information.
At 4 x 5 feet, the dipole is quite large. I really want it to confront you on a human scale. The first panel showed a page dated May 25, 1972. That’s when the FBI essentially lost my father. I love this slippery moment of the unknown. The page says “residence unspecified” and “employment unspecified”. The agency later found his address because it tracked registrations in “People’s World,” the communist newspaper.
The second panel is a mugshot, which looks almost like a political poster printed on the screen, as the photo has been copied and reprinted so many times. I’m thinking about how those mug shots instantly criminalize and dehumanize someone, how they turn them into a number. I imagined this picture on hundreds of FBI desks, and how, to FBI agents, my father was a spendthrift, an “extremist.” My test is: If I draw this image by hand, through some alchemy of love and labor, can I turn it into something else? Can I make it a portrait of an imaginary father of a new world? It’s really fun to draw roses with colored pencils. The color pops with the graphite in a way that makes the flowers look like stickers. I was thinking about family spaces and caring ceremonies, how we give each other flowers to say “I love you” or at funerals to mourn and remember loved ones.
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/31/t-magazine/sadie-barnette-fbi-drawings.html Sadie Barnette’s account of her father’s past