Editor’s notice: In celebration of our 10th anniversary, every week we’ll republish a narrative from our archives that sparked robust response from readers, showcased nice writing or marked historic hallmarks in the evolution of Atlanta’s arts group.
When Faith McClure profiled Fahamu Pecou in 2015 for our “Maker’s Dozen” collection about 12 rising artists, he was a Ph.D. scholar at Emory University who had already cast his place in Atlanta’s inventive group. In the years since, Pecou has earned his doctorate and exhibited in Philadelphia, Paris, New York City and at the Michael C. Carlos Museum on the Emory College campus.
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Conceptual artist Fahamu Pecou casts himself as the shining celebrity of his own hip-hop universe.
His paintings, performances and music videos function a finely crafted alter ego — “Fahamu Pecou Is the Shit” — modeled after fashionable tropes of hip-hop music and entertainment business.
As both artist and Ph.D. scholar in Emory College’s Institute of Liberal Arts, Pecou unravels and scrutinizes representations of black masculinity by means of satire and caricature, appearing out numerous modalities during which such identities are constructed.
To name Pecou’s work ironic, nevertheless, is lacking the purpose. And for those who assume that, you could be among the multitudes lured by a advertising marketing campaign usual after the movie star culture he critiques.
But look additional. It’s all part of the sport Pecou performs. For what seems to be mere parody truly points to a much bigger meta-critique, whereby hip-hop features as a contradictory cultural ecosystem, thriving both as commodification and political dissent.
It’s typically exhausting to inform the place Pecou’s alter ego ends and the “actual” Brooklyn-born artist begins, which is, in fact, a part of his allure.
I asked Pecou about this while sitting in his spacious light-filled studio in Atlanta’s Previous Fourth Ward, largely empty except for a couple of clusters of preliminary sketches and pictures — the 39-year-old just accomplished two back-to-back major exhibitions: GRAV•I•TY on the Museum of Modern Art of Georgia and Imagining New Worlds, on view at the High Museum of Artwork, paired with the late Wifredo Lam and José Parlá.
“The character is me and isn’t me on the similar time,” the Atlanta School of Artwork grad defined. “The query of the place it begins and ends is a joke for me . . . I all the time thought it was actually humorous that as a society, our thoughts are so governed by someone else’s concept about what we expect we must be fascinated by . . . It was just a real question.”
One-on-one, Pecou is definitely fairly shy. He laughs easily and listens attentively. He has a method of immediately putting you comfortable. He’s neither awkward nor boastful, and is snug admitting both his shortcomings and his successes. Pretense evades him, which is, in truth, ironic.
Image as propaganda was not a novel idea for Pecou, who also runs a part-time graphic design enterprise. Compelled by the brazenness of superstar branding, Pecou decided in 2001 to push a comparable bravado, deliberately framing himself as a pop icon.
“The change in response was overnight. It wasn’t a lot that folks have been recognizing the work I was doing; they have been caught up in the marketing campaign,” he defined.
Thus a star was born. Whereas signaling a serious turning point in his career, such insights into shopper tradition additionally offered an mental platform to deal with American obsession with hip-hop’s iconic glitterati, the commodification of hip-hop as a model and the exploitation and misrepresentation of black masculinity it promulgated.
Pecou stars as a character in his paintings, performance and movies, performing his personal objectification. Within the painting collection All Dat Glitters Aint Objectives, which was also produced as a music video, he represents himself in gangsta glitterati personae. The work’ particular person titles — Inheritor Conditioning, Eye Cons, Off da Chain — play with language, talking in rap lyric vernacular while additionally playfully teasing out their deeper which means.
Whereas stereotypes of black masculinity affect Pecou instantly, his work can also be deeply personal in much less obvious methods. When Pecou was four years previous, his Panamanian-born father, suffering from schizophrenic hallucinations, violently murdered the artist’s mother before being permanently institutionalized. Pecou and his three siblings have been shipped off to stay together with his aunt, who was additionally abusive.
Perhaps it was this staggering absence of position models in Pecou’s upbringing that pressured a broader awareness of how black masculinity is shaped within the absence of constructive male position models.
Turning into a father challenged him to take a more durable take a look at his duty. “When my daughter was born, she gave my life objective; when my son was born, he gave my life focus,” stated Pecou in his artist speak at MOCA in January.
The absence of fathers is endemic in lots of African American communities. Only 25 % of all African American houses are two-parent households. The 2012 Census Bureau reported that roughly 50 % of black youngsters reside in households with no father figure current. Fewer than 2 % of the nation’s elementary faculty academics are black males.
Lacking constructive position fashions in their very own houses, who are these younger males wanting up to?
Popular culture has no scarcity of heroes. But the hip-hop music business, the place many black youth culturally discover themselves, inculcates an inaccurate notion of the black male as either revered icon or incriminated villain, both reiterated in mainstream media.
But Pecou asserts that hip-hop’s caricatures aren’t all the time what they seem. Very similar to Pecou’s paintings, it’s potential for rap and hip-hop artists to consciously perform these so-called stereotypes whereas concurrently undermining them inside the content material of their inventive message.
“Obstinate Resistance,” the term Pecou has coined for this type of dissent, is the guts of the artist’s artistic work in addition to his scholarship. He deems this unlikely form of artistic opposition probably simpler as a result of it destabilizes the complete system of response to racial prejudice in America.
“When young black males get shot on the street,” Pecou explains, “we’re anticipated to march and have a candlelight vigil and Al Sharpton is going to return on TV and that’ll be it until the subsequent time it happens.”
Pecou argues that such pop icons as rap artist Kanye West, the primary figure of his research, are important in disrupting these extra conventional forms of opposition, rendered ineffective by their predictability.
“My dissertation seems at black males whose political concepts or artistic ideas don’t fit inside the dominant ideology, [and] how they’re marginalized and vilified, and their pictures manipulated to [distract] you from the last word message,” says the artist.
West is extensively thought-about a problematic figure, typically described as intensely narcissistic, emotional and incessantly uncontrolled. But Pecou thinks in another way, pointing to his irreverent lyrics and public persona.
He writes, “I’m enthusiastic about the best way [Kanye] West combines obstinacy and satire to perform an embodied resistance to American/Western ideals. His lyrics undermine acceptable or politically right ways of being/behaving while simultaneously encouraging Black resistance and Black company in the direction of extra radical ends.”
Pecou’s current exhibition GRAV•I•TY framed the style development of sagging (sporting pants under the belt line) as a equally subversive political act with difficult historical past. Via drawing, portray and sound works, he suggests that the fashion is actually a demand to be seen. The characters depicted, each of them sporting exaggerated layers of boxers, actually defy gravity in their ascent toward larger objectives.
Hip-hop as a related matter of scholarship is finally edging its method into educational discourse. At Georgia State University, for instance, English language and literature professor Scott Heath teaches a course referred to as Kanye Versus Everyone: Black Poetry and Poetics from Hughes to Hip-Hop.
“I feel that younger writers around the globe — and particularly young black writers — are extra prolific than they’ve ever been. It just so occurs that they’re writing to a beat,” he writes in Fader. “It’s not just poetry, however [also] the ways in which we use language, talk about language, assume via language.”
Pecou further bridges the hole between pop culture and academia with Scholarshit, his weblog and digital pedagogy challenge, an excellent alchemical blending of artwork, rap and scholarship — three types of inquiry not in any other case in cross-dialogue.
As a nationally recognized black artist dwelling in Atlanta, Pecou remains awkwardly located between communities that occasionally intersect. “Younger black males of a sure age [are] who I do my work for, however that’s not necessarily my viewers,” explains Pecou.
“I’m continually making an attempt to get my work in front of that group . . . But it is difficult because there’s a disconnect between the black group and the art group.”
Pecou uses totally different platforms to succeed in specific audiences. One can see his exhibitions at galleries and museums; another may comply with him at Fahamu Pecou is the SH!T on Facebook.
Artist. Scholar. Advocate. Father. Pecou, it seems, is turning into the very position model for younger black men he sought himself as a precocious young artist.
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