Black Future Month // 2-22-10 // Sadie Barnette, Visual Artist

Posted on February 22, 2011

I use drawing, philosophy and objects to construct a visual language system out of sub-culture codes, west coast vernacular, geometric formalism and economy. I activate meaning in anonymous faces, signs for nothing and negative space.

That’s an artist statement from Bay Area raised, So-Cal based, visual artist Sadie Barnette. I had to read her battle cry a few times before I had a takeaway, but what I think both her words and her art get at is a sense of elevated meaning in what the hood considers mundane, and a simplification of what the uninitiated see as novel. In short, the signs and symbols us folk experience on the daily have purpose, power and significance.

Sadie Barnette, Center.

I grew up with Sadie. Went to Berkeley High School with her. Cried with her, from time to time. Shared a lot of space on a lot of dance floors. We rode with an immediate circle of daring, capable women, and a larger co-ed circle of inspired dancers, poets, visual artists and artisans. Sadie has always been all of that. I can attest. I bore witness.

What embarrasses me, more than anything, is the fact that Sadie and I drifted away from each other, and I missed the opportunity to watch her grow in her art. She moved to LA while I was in NY, and our paths rarely crossed. She did her undergrad work at Cal Arts, receiving her B.F.A. and is now pursuing her M.V.A. at UC San Diego. Perhaps absence makes the heart go buck or something, but I think Sadie’s beastly. I find the specificity of Sadie’s work to be both refreshing and a great entree for newbies into the world of installed and modern art. Check some of these stills from her last big Bay Area show at Zughaus Gallery in Berkeley.

If you find yourself in San Diego any time between say, now and June, you may wanna add in a stop to Thurgood Marshall College at UCSD — where Sadie’s newest work is up. Says Ms. Barnette of the work: “The piece is simply called ‘Martin Luther King Blvd. and 37th Street,’ because the image could be from any unban ‘hood. But it is in fact a photo of North Oakland and I like to think of it as a camouflaged portal to home…” I don’t know if you’ve been to MLK and 37th in Oakland before, but for me, the street sign alone carries an infinite number of fables, cat calls and novela-like intrigues. Same might be said for 37th and King in Lubbock, Texas or Savannah, GA. And that is what speaks to me about my long-lost friend’s work. As she mines what I consider to be minutia and details of no import, she finds immeasurable meaning. Here’s a still of the piece. If you look real hard you can see sweat dripping from the artist’s brow as she installs.

Lastly, I wanna include a few pages from Sadie’s art book “Sadie Barnette Plus One”.

These images evoked a little bit of Hank Willis Thomas, at least in my mind. Though at 35, he’s far from an O.G., still a young man by many accounts, he is definitely Ms. Barnette’s predecessor. He’s roughly 10 years her senior and is a known tour-de-force in the art world. His work has been exhibited at sites all over, including the Smithsonian Institute’s Portrait Gallery and at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Already a part of Black History, we salute the work of Hank Willis Thomas. Already serving as Artistic Director of #blackfuture we give props to the indomitable Sadie Barnette.

You can check for Sadie at Hank Willis Thomas can be found at

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