ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009)
Juba Dis an Juba Dat
signed 'ERNIE BARNES' (lower right)
acrylic on canvas, in artist's frame
2434 x 3012 in. (62.8 x 77.5 cm.)
Painted in 1976.
Private collection, California, circa 1970s
Private collection, California, 2012
By descent from the above to the present owner
We would like to thank Luz Rodriguez at the Ernie Barnes Estate for her assistance in cataloguing this work.
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Lot Essay

Ernie Barnes‘ Juba Dis An Juba Dat is a visual juxtaposition of the artist’s experience of growing up in the Jim Crow era South with the history of Juba, a political art form employed by enslaved individuals in the antebellum South. A musical art form in its own right, Juba is a form of percussive dance that employs elements of the human body to produce a series of complex rhythms. Originating in West Africa, Juba involves both feet stomping and slapping of the hands against one’s own hips, thighs, arms and chests—the conglomeration of noises producing a call and response-style performance. Arguably the most famous Juba rhyme, entitled “Juba Juba,” evokes the title of the present lot in its opening line: “Juba dis and Juba dat, and Juba killed da yellow cat.”

The popularization of Juba amongst communities of enslaved African American individuals was the result of the 1739 Stono Insurrection in Southern California, a resistance movement started by a community of slaves. Drums were used to call their peers to action against the violence imparted by slaveowners, building a formidable revolution grounded in musical exchange. So as to stifle the traction of this movement, laws were passed forbidding the enslaved’s use of percussive instruments. In retaliation, Juba was brought to the forefront of African American musical resistance with enslaved individuals employing their cultural heritage though the use of their bodies as revolutionary instruments.

Juba Dis An Juba Dat brings this history of Juba into the context of the artist’s life in the Jim Crow South. Barnes paints a street scene in great detail, licensing his personal experiences to trace the through line of the Black experience in America. With dynamism as the cornerstone of Barnes’ oeuvre, the present lot shows the mastery of energy captured by the artist’s hand. Though solitary, the female figure, handling a paddle ball in peak motion, is expressive in a moment of quiet confidence. Her body contorts mid-dance, her head held high with pride and gusto. The title of the work perhaps nods to the paddle ball not only as a modern toy but more poignantly as a rhythm-keeper, flooding the canvas with a tangible musicality that one can almost hear. Here, the sidewalk becomes a stage, a platform upon which the young girl pays homage to the history of Juba via self-expressive performance. Barnes engages the history of Juba, carrying the rhythm into the contemporary into his own personal context.

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