My Father’s FBI File, Project 4, 2017

Sadie Barnette

My Father’s FBI File, Project 4 comprises political and personal documents concerning the life and surveillance of Rodney Barnette, founder of the Compton, California chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, known as Section 9-A. The artist obtained over five hundred documents about the surveillance of her father by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which was designed to suppress the Black Panther Party during the sixties and seventies. The FBI special agents (SAs) documented decades of Rodney Barnette’s daily life. Barnette’s file includes cases such as his role in the Angela Davis Defense Committee, his name in the ADEX list for detention without due process, and interrogations of acquaintances and informants. Specifically, Government Employees reports the investigation into terminating his position with the United States Post Office by accusing him of living with a woman outside of marriage, which was deemed behavior unbecoming a government employee.

Some documents contain the signature of FBI director and architect of the surveillance program, J. Edgar Hoover, who declared in 1969 that “the Black Panther Party represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country.” The Racial Intelligence Section was a unit within the Intelligence Division of the FBI, established in September 1967.

In My Father’s FBI File, the evidence collected to construct false narratives of political conflict are deconstructed in the social sphere and then reconstructed within the intimacy of personal memory. The redacted historical documents of secret programs are used as raw material and combined with documents of family history. Disaffected governmental surveillance and overreach is reclaimed through the resilient aesthetics of graffiti and portrayals of personal affections.

Read Ephemeral Evidence by Sampada Aranke.

My Father’s FBI File: Government Employees; Untitled (Dad in Post Office uniform); Special Agent 2.

Archival pigment prints, 22 × 17 in. 55,8 × 43,1 cm. each, edition 5; Custom vinyl wallpaper, size variable; 2017.
Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery.