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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A few questions with Fahamu Pecou

click to enlarge "Whirl Nigga Laws
  • "Around the Whirl" from Whirl Trade, 2009.

Fahamu Pecou is an Atlanta-based artist with international acclaim. In 2009 alone, he has shown the solo exhibitions Coming From Where I'm From in Cape Town, South Africa, Black Presidential in Basel, Switzerland and New York City, and now Whirl Trade at Atlanta's Get This Gallery. This latest exhibition of paintings "addresses the impressions, interpretations and misconceptions of blackness that African descended communities perform for each other."

Performance is an integral part of Pecou's work. He has developed characters like "Fahamou Pecou is the Shit" and videos that toy with the notions of image and celebrity that run throughout the paintings.

Fahamu was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about his time spent in South Africa and the process he uses to create these massive, magazine-styled paintings.

His answers and more images from Whirl Trade after the jump.

Where are you from? Where have you lived? Where do you live now?

I was born in Brooklyn New York, but spent most of my childhood growing up in Hartsville, SC. I currently live and work in Atlanta.

"Role Model Citizen" from Whirl Trade, 2009.
  • "Role Model Citizen" from Whirl Trade, 2009.

Can you describe your process?

My process, once I have a concept, begins with a photo-shoot.  I then take the photos and mock-up magazine covers. Idetermine the layouts based on the composition of the photos  and style of the magazines I'm referencing. At times, I try to pair the image with a magazine title that compliments the concept of that particular piece. Most often however, those parallels become apparent after I've begun the painting. Additional text or graffiti comes into play as I have conversations with friends, listen to music or any myriad of ideas that are inspired by my day-to-day activities.

The performances are often scripted or developed to enhance the overall theme of the paintings. In my performances, I try to add an element of humor or satire. The performances themselves are designed to play on our perception of celebrity and fame. I call my performances anti-performance because they are more so about your reaction to me or my presentation as opposed to something I am doing or saying.

"Whr We Grew At" from Whirl Trade, 2009.
  • "Whr We Grew At" from Whirl Trade, 2009.

You recently traveled internationally and were inspired to create the work for Whirl Trade. Where did you go and what did you see that inspired you?

In 2008 I received a fellowship to do a residency in South Africa. When I first arrived in Durban and checked into my hotel, I turned on the television and caught a bit of a music video show. I was blown away at the fact that the men and women on the show spoke like, dressed like, danced like and did pretty much everything I could see on 106 and Park or a similar program here in the states. In fact, they had on "A" hats and sagging jeans and spoke with NY accents. I was like "where the hell am I?"

During that same trip I was leaving a restaurant in Cape Town with a friend of mine from Detroit and some other friends who were born and raised in Cape Town. As we walked to the car, a homeless man approached to ask for change. He heard my friend and I and got excited. "Hey you guys are from the U.S." he said, "You are the REAL NIGGAS"

My friend and I were both taken aback. "No friend, we're not niggas." we replied.

"No, you are real niggas" the guy continued, " Like for REAL Niggas. You're not like these other guys from West Africa or South Africa who come and try to act like the real niggas. You ARE the real niggas."

"Nah man, you're my brother" I said.

"No Niggas. I'm a nigga too. That's good now. I'm a nigga like you!" the guy said excitedly.

This conversation went on for a good 10 minutes, with even my Cape Town friends trying to explain to my friend from Detroit and I, that being a nigga was cool. That it was not a bad word. And that's how people identify with each other.

I began to think about the impact of black American culture on the world stage, and how the word nigga could cross waters and be embraced by Africans. I thought about the power of hip-hop music and how impactful it is on the world. I thought, here we have this platform, this microphone and we can communicate any message to the world... yet what are we choosing to say? In that moment, I also began to think and question my own fantastical ideas of what it meant to be African. As a child of parents who embraced Marcus Garvey's Pan-Africanist philosophies, yet never saw Africa, or as a member of a community of self-identified "conscious" black people, I began to realize that some of my ideas of Africa and African people were not realistic. I began to see the whole thing emerge as a very twisted and distorted exchange of culture and ideas, hence the name Whirl Trade.

Do you listen to music while you paint? What do you listen to?

I listen to any and everything. Music is really the fuel in a lot of what I do. I am a fan of hip hop music and as such a critic of it as well. I am not afraid to point out the errors I see in it or to celebrate the creativity and ingenuity of it. But I don't stop at hip hop. I listen to jazz, rock, house, soul, alternative, blue grass, bhangra, country, pop... you name it, I play it. I appreciate the art of music and it inspires me as a painter. I like to pick apart sounds and lyrics... often referencing what I deem clever word play in my work.

Whirl Trade Through Jan. 9, 2010. Get This! Gallery. 678-596-4451.

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