Fahamu Pecou is an Atlanta-based artist and Ph.D. candidate whose exhibit, Fahamu Pecou: Artist and Scholar, is currently on display at The Arts Company as part of Culture Fest. Read more about the work in this week's Scene. And below, read a transcript of part of the conversation I had with Pecou.
Country Life: You talk a lot about wanting to be a black male role model. Why? Who were your role models?
Fahamu Pecou: For me, particularly in how it relates to black masculinity, it comes from a position of a lack. Growing up, no I didn't have a father around, and not many males in my life. I was raised by mostly women, but I always longed for that kind of a relationship. I would watch TV and see fathers and wished I had something like that. I did have my grandfather around, who was definitely a major influence on me, in terms of the way he carried himself. He was very well-respected in the town I grew up in. He was also very much a man of few words. He didn't do a bunch of talking. You didn't have to ask him for anything — he saw a need and he filled it. In many ways his silence has been a big influence on me. Because I'm less about talking about what needs to be done and who needs to do what. But instead I'm interested in stepping in where I see a lack. If I recognize a lack, it's my responsibility to try to fill that void.
That was inspired by the birth of my son. I really wanted to not only be sure that I was there for my son and be able to set a good example for him, but also thinking about how young boys who look like him who don't have fathers in their lives, and think about what I can do for them. And my work became a platform for me to engage with those concerns.
If you're interested in positive male figures, why do you only paint self-portraits? Why not portraits of other men?
They're self-portraits, but only to a limited degree. I don't even call them self-portraits. I use myself as a model as a way of challenging images that we have around representations of black masculinity. So in many ways I am performing a character, and as that character I'm performing to different stereotypes. Part of the reason why I do that is because if I were to use random models, who I wouldn't have any sort of personal connection to, it would be really easy to dismiss the conversations that are being started and the questions that are being raised.
I'm in an interdisciplinary program at Emory that's designed for people whose research interests don't fit into a traditional program. My research is built around what I'm doing in my studio practice, which is looking at representations of black masculinity in popular culture. More specifically, I'm doing my dissertation on Kanye West and his performance of obstinate resistance. That's what I call it. It's interesting to use him as a way to examine broader concerns around representations of black masculinity. The images of him that are put forth are in many ways in stark contrast to what he brings about in his music. I find that an interesting way to engage with how black men are portrayed, and how we perform our identities.
Are there any particular pieces that you're excited to show in Nashville?
In many ways [the exhibit is] a broad sweeping introduction to what I do, but All Dat Glitters Ain't Goals is a series that really tries to engage with youth culture. One of the things that Leatrice [Ellzy, Culture Fest's executive producer] wanted to do with Culture Fest was make sure that it not only touched people from different walks of life and different demographics, but also that it connected across generations. She wanted to reach the younger audiences. All Dat Glitters is a sort of a cautionary tale. Oftentimes, we're represented with images in the media of success being these shiny, glittery beings. But at what cost?
For more on Pecou, come to The Arts Company's opening reception at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, which will feature a conversation with the artist and Nashville Arts Magazine's editor Paul Polycarpou.