Rodney says that after a year, FBI interference forced him to resign his Panther post. “Somebody called me into the Panther office, who I never saw before, and told me that they were in the Panther Underground”—a fictitious group, he’d later find out. They ordered him to discipline members who were late to the Compton meetings by beating them with a stick. “I said, ‘That’s crazy. We can’t do that to our own people. How could we differentiate the police beating people, and us beating people?’ They told me I had to do it or to resign,” he remembers. “I always thought that that was some FBI agent, some agent provocateurs or informants that all of a sudden appeared to try to split the party up. It turns out it was true.”
Sadie’s My Father’s FBI File, Project II (2017), a wall installation of black-and-white laser prints of the government’s surveillance, allows for a selected reading of Rodney’s history in fine print. (The Baxter St installation is a smaller iteration of Sadie’s large-scale installation, My Father FBI File, Project I, 2016, which is currently on view in the group exhibition, “All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50” at the Oakland Museum of California.) The artist has selectively stained the documents with pink and purple spray paint, a gesture that conjures the ways in which blood splatters. The work evokes the reality that the FBI’s illegal surveillance also included operations that resulted in the killing of prominent members of the Black Panther Party.
The graffiti gesture, for Sadie, is a layered means of symbolizing the language of 1980s Hip-hop—a culture that the artist, who was born during the dawn of that era, often weaves into her work in order to to write herself into it. In graffitiing the documents found in Project II, Barnette writes herself into her paternal history. “There’s just so many marks and evidence of information collecting and surveillance on these files that I wanted to put our mark back on it,” she says, “and really claim ownership of it.” The gesture also represents an artful method of redacting the purposefully fabricated misinformation found in the documents. For instance, the documents discuss an “aborted ambush,” that, according to Rodney, the Black Panthers never planned.