Think you don’t know Fahamu Pecou? Think again. If you watch Empire (and who doesn’t?), you’ve seen his work jump from the walls during some of the most monumental scenes of the show. If you’ve tuned in to Black-ish, you’ve witnessed his interpretation of Black America’s dynamic narrative accentuating the décor of the Johnson home. But Empire and Black-ish aside, Pecou’s paintings have been featured in galleries and museums all over the globe, making a profound impact on the landscape of the American art world.
The paintings of Fahamu Pecou are bold, bright, unapologetically Black, and inherently political, while delicately encapsulating the spirit of modern-day Black America. His larger than life paintings command spaces with a nuanced vibrato unique to his well-pronounced artistic voice. Standing on a self-made soapbox, Pecou uses broad brushstrokes and tightly pulled canvases as a bullhorn to speak to the intersections and complexities of Black masculinity, hip-hop as a theory and a practice, and the self in the context of it all. All the while, he pays homage to the rich and vibrant history and culture of the African diaspora with a wink and a nod.
EBONY.com speaks to Fahamu Pecou via video chat on a sticky summertime afternoon. When he popped up on the screen, I was greeted by an ebullient smile, asymmetrical hair, Warby Parkeresque glasses, and an energy of kindness and humility that took me by surprise.
Here is Fahamu Pecou, an artist whose work on the surface seems wholeheartedly ego ridden. Many of his pieces feature himself—at times shirtless; at times dripping in gold and glitz; at times with pants sagging in a way that suggest a habitual middle finger to all things respectable. Also note that one aspect of Pecou’s earlier performance art pieces consisted of him showing up to events surrounded by bodyguards while he stood silently amidst them, taking stock of the public’s reaction.
So suffice it to say, my pleasant surprise was warranted. I brought this up and Pecou had no qualms playing up hegemonic ideas about what Black is and what Black masculinity looks like.
“My work is very specific in these interpretations of Black masculinity,” he says. “I do it in a much more strategic way—less about the satire, more about the subversion. I present an idea that engages with these concerns in a way that invites [people] in. But once they’re in, they realize that there’s something more.”
Pecou’s ability to reimagine familiar scenes of Blackness is what makes his work magical. For example, take one of his most celebrated pieces, But I’m Still Fly, from a recent exhibition entitled GRAV*I*TY. The focus on the subject’s layered boxers, creased jeans and sneakers would suggest a study of the relationship between sagging pants and Black masculinity. But the subject’s balled brown fist and floating turquoise sneakers speak to so much more than that. But I’m Still Fly is an ode to Maya Angelou’s But Still I Rise. It’s a mini-revolution on canvas, and its muted colors speak to the tension and struggle of what it means to be Black and still be free.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture recently acquired that very piece, and But I’m Still Fly is set to join the vast and celebrated collection of the museum. But as Fahamu Pecou’s sphere of influence broadens, so do the complexities of his work. And as his Black-centered work enters more and more predominantly White spaces, Pecou is forced to consider just how his work is interpreted in those spaces.
“I found that people were getting really caught up with hype and sensationalism,” he remarks with a contemplative look, “and not really dealing with the critical ideas the work was attempting to raise.”
Pecou sits dressed in a loose fitting white shirt that melts into the background of his pure white-walled studio, spitting beautifully crafted answers with ease and speed—clearly he does lots of interviews. So I when finally ask the one question that catches him off guard, I’m ecstatic.
Where’s the green?
None of your paintings have any green in them. What’s up with that? Could there be some sort of connection to Yoruba spirituality that you are pulling from?
Pecou smirks and gingerly reaches under his white collar to expose a mass of tangled strands of beaded necklaces that jump out against his white shirt.
“Having a grasp of our Yoruba heritage is an empowering thing,” he reveals. “It give us a way to express and articulate our ideas that are not serving to someone else. [I think] it actually does enhance our experience here on this plane.”
Pecou’s longtime embrace of the Ifa tradition is sprawled across his work. It’s in all of the nooks and crannies of the canvas. It’s in the color palettes and the positions of his subjects—sometimes overt, other times occult, but always there. Pecou asserts that the ubiquity of Yoruba traditions is something the Black community engages with through various West African cultural retentions that have become woven into Black culture.
“It’s not something that you impose on people. It’s there if you want it. I’m not proselytizing to anybody, but I also want people to know that it’s there, and it’s there for you, and you’re probably engaging with certain ideas without realizing it.”
Fahamu Pecou hopes to further investigate ideas surrounding African cultural retentions and Black American traditions, and is working on encapsulating notions of African cosmology in his future pieces. He’s currently in the process of completing his doctorate degree from Emory University. He is curating Elevate, one of Atlanta’s largest gallery shows and citywide events, and was selected by the En Route program of MARTA (the city’s train system) to create public art installations throughout Hotlanta.
So if you aren’t keeping tabs on Fahamu Pecou, you should be. He’s a talented artist, a true visionary, and a master collaborator.
Solé Aurochs is a video artist and writer currently based in Boston. For more information, check out TheSolarium.net and follow her on Twitter @SoleAurochs.