August 24, 2010 Arts » Cover story

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Artist Fahamu Pecou brings creativity and controversy to the Harvey Gantt Center 

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"When I started out with my 'Fahamu Pecou is the Shit' campaign, it was all about social media," he says. "It was all about guerilla marketing; it was all about alternative forms of communication. So social media just became a tool that made my job a lot easier. Now, I don't necessarily have to go out and leave things posted all over ... I can just jump on Twitter and hit a few thousand people in two seconds." A husband and father of two, Pecou also maintains a blog, "Passage of Right," where he writes about growing up without a father and his commitment to being a dedicated presence in the lives of his children.

Pecou's presence, it seems, is being felt by many — on- and offline these days. His works have been viewed in places near (the High Museum of Art in Atlanta) and far (solo exhibitions in Capetown, South Africa and at Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland). Magazines like The Fader, Mass Appeal, Art in America and NY Arts Magazine have featured and reviewed his art, and he maintains public speaking engagements at museums and colleges nationwide.

"What he's been able to accomplish in a really, really short time career-wise, is really remarkable," says Scott. "One of the things we want to be able to do here at The Center is to support artists and to nurture talent and to reward it and recognize it. And so Fahamu is — I mean, we're already reading about him in magazines."

"I think he's a young superstar as an artist," says Taylor. "I think [his residency] will continue to demonstrate an example of hope to young aspiring artists of how they can use these new mediums of technology in [expressing] themselves as Fahamu does."

The Body as Other

On some stretch of I-20 in Atlanta, Pecou's fingers are moving fast-like. Something he has sensed in the air, picked up through multi-sensory transmission, must be documented. This is how a Fahamu Pecou creation is born: A few ideas typed into his blackberry become concepts for future projects; that become photo-shoot collaborations with photographers; that become images for digitally designed, mock magazine covers; that become large-scale paintings made to look like magazine covers with provocative images, provoking cover lines, and himself as the main focus.

He says, though, that his works are not about him.

"One of the things I really try to make clear is that yeah, it's me, it's my body, but it's not me as an autobiography," says Pecou.

"I'm using myself as an allegory, because a couple of things happen when I present the work as such. One, when people see these covers or they see these paintings and they see the kind of posing and the clothes and the styling and all that kind of stuff, automatically your mind jumps to what you think you know about black men, as it's been presented in the media. But then the contradiction comes when the person actually realizes that the person in the piece is me. And an artist is not supposed to present himself in that way. So then, all of a sudden, your whole foundation starts to rock a little bit.

"I feel like if I choose a random guy off the street, it's really easy for people to disassociate themselves from that. Because it's me and you're forced to confront me in that kind of way, it forces a conversation in a different kind of way."

The Fahamenal Future

On Tuesday, Sept. 7, Pecou will officially begin his residency in Charlotte, and he'll make his introduction via the Saturday, Sept. 11 "Something like a Fahamenon" '90s Jam at the Gantt Center (see "Fahamu-Related Events" sidebar for more details). The event is modeled after a series of parties Pecou hosted in various cities throughout the country, and seeks to create "memorable experiences around the arts by making the institution of art accessible to diverse audiences through music, culture and a party atmosphere." Fahamenon will feature Pecou as the MC and host, themed music by DJ Salah Ananse, and a book signing. It is only the first in a series of programming events that will familiarize the Queen City audience with the artist and his works.

"In order for art to be accessible and enjoyed and appreciated, there has to be a lot of education and programming around the exhibitions and the artists," says Scott.

For Pecou, this will include a panel discussion, "Passage of Right: Call & Response" (featuring Phonte from the N.C.-based hip-hop/soul group The Foreign Exchange, among other panelists) on Sept. 18, his participation in Open Studio Saturdays, open house events, as well as a group exhibition next spring.

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