Artist Fahamu Pecou builds something from the nothing of current of hip-hop
The response has been great and has sparked a lot of conversation around how we view ourselves and each other. What kind of impression we are making of ourselves to other cultures and, deeper still, what kind of impression do I have about African culture through this same context and my own experience? I couldn't ask one question without asking the other. I try to be cautious about this in my work. I'm not trying to accuse or ridicule any group so much as begin to ask questions and start a dialogue between groups who think they know each other but don't.
SFBG You do performances at your gallery shows. Costumes and everything. How does fashion play into your work?
FP In the beginning, it was more about capturing fashion that reflected a whole lifestyle. I patterned it after 50 Cent, who was the catalyst for my whole campaign. I was watching how he was packaged and wondering why a visual artist was never marketed that way. My whole fashion was based on that and Puff Daddy. Then I added my own touches with ascots and blazers and stuff like that.
With "Whirl Trade," I'm looking at contemporary African fashion. Right now, African street fashion is a mashup of textiles and patterns, colors that almost seem disparate but come together beautifully. That and photographs of Malik Sadibe inspired me to bring in many different patterns and contrasts. It wasn't that I was trying to copy a style as much as capture the cultural exchange between what Africans think African Americans dress like, and what African Americans think Africans dress like.
SFBG Though you reference hip-hop, I don't really see you as a hip-hop artist. I sense a cynicism in your approach. Are you disillusioned with hip-hop?
FP I just found myself not so connected to what was being presented in early 2000s. A lot of media-made hip-hop stars came out. It stopped being so much about talent as it was marketing. It became about who was willing to come out and say they sold these drugs or did this killing. At one point that was legitimate, rappers came from the street, but then came these media guys who just said that shit to be famous, just for credibility and that's what started hurting the integrity of the form.
It stopped being how fresh, how clever or how innovative an artist could be. It became how violent, how misogynistic, how violent a person could be. Extremes of everything — people ended being blaxploitation characters.
I'm talking about that in my next work, called "Hard To Death" — about the evolution of black manhood, and how there's a lack of visual representation of that evolution beyond a certain point. Most of the images we see are reflections of hip-hop culture, which captures the black male between the ages of 18-25, just when many young men are working things out. It has become one of the only representations of black masculinity, which is very frustrating. My next piece is devoted to accurately portraying the evolution of black men. I'm seeing more established artists like Common and Jay-Z who have grown beyond that dangerous time.
Since my son was born, I've been really driven to addressing these issues around black masculinity and black manhood. I feel a sense of responsibility there because my work crosses the lines between popular culture and hip-hop culture, and I see that there's a lack of responsible voices. My voice can work as a catalyst to start a conversation. I started a blog (passageofright.wordpress.com) to begin talking about creating systems for some kinds of rites of passage for young black boys. I didn't grow up with a father or a whole lot of role models, so most of what I've learned about being a man is from the school of hard knocks. I want to prevent the continuation of that kind of awakening.