Artist Fahamu Pecou builds something from the nothing of current of hip-hop
VISUAL ART In 2005, then-struggling Atlanta artist Fahamu Pecou presented "Arts, Beats and Lyrics" at Atlanta's High Museum of Art. The oversize paintings were blinged-out-mack-daddy-baller self-portraits showing the artist on the covers of well-known and respected magazines. Within two years, his work had been reviewed and featured in numerous publications, including Art In America, Harper's, NY Arts, Mass Appeal, and The Fader. The sheer voodoo of this act makes Pecou a formidable creative force, and coupled with his knack for spectacle, his opening at Shooting Gallery this month is rumored to be the most vainglorious of the season. I caught up with him recently on the phone.
SFBG I'm amazed by your earlier work because it seems to me that you used sympathetic magic to approach fame. You placed yourself within the context of celebrity and became a celebrity. Was that your original intention?
Fahamu Pecou It's funny. It was kind of like the law of attraction. You can write your own narrative by believing in the messages you put out. I started doing this marketing campaign because I was frustrated with the way my career was going at the time. I really just wanted to get my name out there. Just my name. I wanted to make sure that when my name came across the desk of curator or gallery owner, they'd say, "I've seen this name before, maybe I should learn more about this person." It was really sort of a joke. As it started to grow and people began to talk about it, it took on a life of its own.
SFBG Did you anticipate that it would go beyond Atlanta and become international?
FP No. It was just a clever, catchy inside joke among me and my friends. The minute I started putting out stickers and posters that said "Fahamu Pecou Is The Shit," it was a hit. People were jumping on it. It was good that it happened that way because it allowed me to grow with it. Whether I can directly relate it to a specific style, I'll leave that for people to write about.
SFBG Why did you call your latest show "Whirl Trade"?
FP The theme came from the idea of cultural exchanges between Africans on the continent of Africa and the rest of the African diaspora around the world, and how a lot can be lost and misconstrued when taken out of the original cultural context. We look back and forth at each other, and we do what we think is our best impression of "the other." It comes out a twisted up and strange simulation.
I was in South Africa for residency on the Eastern Cape and spent some time in Capetown. I had a friend from Detroit with me, and a few friends from Capetown. We were coming out a restaurant and this homeless guy heard me and my homeboy talking. He said, "You guys are from America? You guys are the real niggas."
We were both like, "Naw man, we aren't niggers, we're brothers." And he said, "No. No, you guys are niggas, and I want to be a nigga too." He was going on and on about how being a nigga was a good thing, not like these guys who come in from Nigeria and other places thinking they're real niggas. We were the real deal. And here we are, trying to explain to him how being a nigga is not a good thing. Nobody wants to be a nigga. My Capetown friends were telling me that being a nigga is not a bad thing anymore. I started wondering, where did this come from? That's what "Whirl Trade" is about: the cultural export of hip-hop culture and the impact it has on the rest of the world. We have this great stage, this platform, where we have the ear of the world. What are we saying? A lot of what's being said and heard is a lot of nothing, especially when taken out of cultural context.