Minisode: Sadie Barnette on Family Tree II

Dec 8, 2023


Minisode: Sadie Barnette on Family Tree II


Sadie Barnette: I am Sadie Barnette, I'm from Oakland, California, and I am here in the Whitney galleries looking at my multimedia work called Family Tree II.

I'm really thinking about a living room, that one auntie who might have all of the family photos displayed in the home. And it very much feels like this salon wall from the living room. All of these works are hanging above a holographic vinyl upholstered couch. 

This piece is essentially a deconstructed family tree. So it's really built around these family names, which are the names of my family on my father's side. 

But it's really a self-portrait as a relational way of being, so who I am based on who I am from, and who I am in relation to. And at the same time, I wanted to use this rainbow order structure, to really make the piece feel like as if it's made up of a bunch of small things, it's one big thing unified together.

You have this kind of red and orange section on the left, with a spray paint text drawing, a photo of a fizzy pop, Hello Kitty soda, and a shiny candy-apple red can, a red birthday cake that says, "Happy Birthday, Malik," pizza, and this orange photo from the day in California when the wildfire smoke made it so that the sun didn't come up.

Then you kind of fade into these yellows with French fries and street signs, then into green and blue, and purple into pink. And really thinking about when you're in grade school, anytime I would be confronted with a pile of markers, the first thing I would do is put them in rainbow order, and just making everything feel like it was in the right place and the most beautiful order. It was almost like a compulsion to find this system to organize these colors. And so I'm really thinking about that kind of playful, but orderly, need to organize colors in that way.

The couch is—the shape of it to me feels kind of sixties, a little bit extra with this sweetheart shape to the back, and wings almost at the edges. It feels like a Cadillac of couches, if you will. It's got these buttons and piping all around it, which really creates a lot of reflective surfaces and opportunities for the holographic vinyl to do this rainbow effect.

It's always my hope that the more specific my work is, the more openings there actually are for other people to come in and relate to it. So I often think about my family as my audience, and I'm talking directly to my family. But because of that family relationship, other people from other families can come in and recognize that call and response that I'm having with my family, and see their own families in it.

There's one photograph that looks like it's from a wedding. There's this giant white floral arrangement in the background, and two adults kind of looking off into some other conversation that's happening outside of the frame. And then there's a little kid, maybe five or six, kind of staring right into the camera. Probably a little bit bored, because they're at this grownup function, and they don't know how long they're going to be there, and there's not a lot of entertainment for the kid. And I feel like so many people can see that moment and just relate to being that kid, to hanging out with your mom at the grocery store, and just feeling like time is standing still because it's boring. 

So there's weddings, there's birthday cakes. I was definitely thinking about the names on the cakes relating to the names in the drawings, and where I'm really elevating these family names into this important document of my lineage. Also, thinking about a birthday cake as a sort of casual nameplate. So there's, “Happy Birthday Malik,” or my name in pink on a birthday cake. What's more loving than when a family member writes your name on a saved plate of food in the refrigerator, or something like that?

No one moment is going to be the texture of a life and the complexities of all these interweaving lives and histories and moments. But maybe together, all these things start to inch a little bit closer towards a texture—an experience—some glimpse at what's at stake when you think about a family, and the arc of generations, and these huge ideas of history and family. To me it always comes back to these really small moments being a part of this bigger constellation. 

Sadie Barnette joins us in the galleries to discuss her artwork Family Tree II, currently on view in Inheritance through February 2024. The piece is a holographic vinyl upholstered couch in front of a constellation of framed images. “It's really a self-portrait as a relational way of being,” she says, “who I am based on who I am from and who I am in relation to.”