At first glance, Fahamu Pecou’s artworks could be viewed simply
as bright, dynamic musings on pop culture. Look a little
longer and you’ll find that this Brooklyn-born, Atlanta-based
artist’s paintings delve pretty deep. Much of Pecou’s visual
art explores (oftentimes misguided) perceptions and stereotypes of
African-American men, touching on wealth, success, politics and
A graduate of Atlanta College of Art and Spelman College, Pecou
gained attention in the early 2000s with a clever marketing
campaign. “Fahamu Pecou is the shit” was a risky experiment in
self-promotion. It was a crusade that involved posters, stickers and
tee-shirts that were emblazoned with the slogan and then waiting,
watching as the buzz grew. Since then, Pecou proved he has the skills
to back up the hype, and has exhibited his work in solo and group
shows all over the United States – and from Switzerland to South Africa
– has given lectures, worked as an artist in residence and earned
himself a swag of awards.
Despite now owning his own creative agency and working with a
bunch of hip hop artists, Pecou was apparently a nerdy kid (it’s been
said he used to read encyclopaedias for fun) and didn’t visit a gallery
until he was in university. He dabbles in video art, digital music, is a
“closet actor”, a street performer. Already your own initial perceptions
of him are being challenged, right? We suspect that’s how he’d
We interviewed Fahamu for The Gossip Edition
. Here's a snippet:
Your work focuses on themes pertaining to wealth, success,
masculinity and perceptions of African-American men – you’re
Atlanta-based, but were born in Brooklyn, and have been lots of
places through America. Do you think that these perceptions vary a
lot from state to state, city to city?
Visual representations of the African Diaspora suffer from the
same fetishisation, degradation and exploitation throughout the
states. In contemporary terms we often examine black masculinity
via hip hop culture and it can be difficult to tell where the fallacies
begin and end. The geographical nuances don’t vary as much as they
may have 10 or 20 years ago because the images that are produced
go everywhere. The broadcasting of this commoditised black culture
affects how men and women who adopt these images as their own see
and understand themselves and their communities.
‘Blackness’ is now a style that people put on and perform regardless
of where they are in the world. It is not uncommon for art directors
or creative directors to project their perceptions of blackness onto
black models. Models and actors may be asked to ‘be more ghetto’.
Rappers or entertainers are branded similarly regardless of their style
or music. The ‘boxing in’ of individuals into a stylistic representation
is reflective of an industry of exploitation that is based on its ability
to sell an idea or image. This industry goes with what is tried and
true, unfortunately for many, at the individual’s expense.
Do you think there is pressure on African-American men because of the stereotypical ways that sportsmen and rappers are depicted in the media?
I don’t feel that most African-American men are as conscious of the stereotypes that affect our perception in the world. That is, these images have been so normalised that many use them as an easy and readily accessible means of self-identification. I feel that if more African American men were made conscious of other ways to self-identify that greater consideration would be given to the ways in which we allow ourselves to be represented. However, I am encouraged that the most typical representations out there today reflect a very small percentage of black men.
That said, most of what we see of black men in media is limited to young men between the ages of 18-25 who have been thrust into a world of fast money and access. They get swept up in the fast paced money machine and are then blamed for their lack of proper education and for not being positive role models. But that’s what happens when we project lofty expectations onto boys and young men who often lack the resources to know better. I feel that blame cannot be placed solely on these young men for the stereotypes and shortcomings they proliferate when older generations have failed to educate and impart the wisdom of experience to successive generations or when people have a vested or financial interest in the exploitation of others. Busta Rhymes was one quoted as saying, “Hip hop is the only industry that makes money for people who care nothing about it”.