Fahamu Pecou’s Whirl Trade: Hip-hop vanity or vanitas?

Fahamu Pecou, American Dream'n. Photo courtesy Get This! Gallery.

With all the buzz I heard about the show, I really wanted to like Fahamu Pecou’s Whirl Trade at Get This! Gallery. His persona is fun and energetic, and he even sells t-shirts in bright colors that proclaim, “Fahamu Pecou is the Shit,” which makes me chuckle. As much as I wanted to like it, I left disappointed.

Fahamu Pecou's Whirl Trade, installation view. Photo courtesy Get This! Gallery.

Whirl Trade consists of five large-scale, largely monochromatic paintings that hang on the walls of Get This! Gallery. In his artist statement, Pecou references the photography of Malick Sidibé. Sidibé is known for his documentary portraits of youth culture in his native country of Mali. He was honored in 2007 with the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, making him the first photographer and African artist ever to win the award. Sidibé was able to capture a moment in time at the beginning of West Africa’s post-colonial period (from the late 1950s through the mid 1970s), and his photography conveyed the exuberance and sense of hope that surrounded the period. In the painting American Dream’n, Pecou’s imagery is certainly influenced by Sidibé’s photographic style. These canvases by Pecou reference the documentary nature of Sidibé’s work, combined with Pecou’s own use of text and material from contemporary hip-hop culture.

Fahamu Pecou, Whirl Ni**a Laws/Lost. Photo courtesy Get This! Gallery.

The references to hip-hop culture are obvious, such as gold microphones. Pecou became critical of the way hip-hop culture has been appropriated in other parts of the world, particularly in Africa, after he spent some time in South Africa. Hip-hop artists have achieved such incredible international success, but what message are they trying to send? In Whirl Ni**a Laws/Lost, Pecou paints himself seated with microphone in hand: The empty thought bubble at the end of the microphone is perhaps the clearest and best visual representation of Pecou’s skepticism. However, I feel as though the message is lost. It seems less critical when Pecou merely inserts himself into a stereotypical role of “blackness” without some irony or detachment. While the ideas are solid, the visual representation needs to reflect them more clearly.

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  • Sally Hansell
    June 3, 2010 at

    In “American Dream’n” Pecou portrays a woman riding side saddle on a bicycle, as in pre-modern times, with a pose reminiscent of Old Masters portraiture. The pattern on her dress suggests that she is wrapped in chains, and the decorative circular shape is repeated in her head wrap. With these suggestions of limitations, Pecou perhaps references women’s rights in Africa.

    For another take on this show, see Rebecca Dimling Cochran’s review in Art in America (May 2010, appropriately the international issue, p.163).

  • Smolen
    May 11, 2010 at

    Theres no problem with that, if you want to use your full 15 seconds every time its your turn then its up to you. 15 seconds still isnt a lot of time to go through all the decisions you need to make…

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  • Rochelle Braylock
    January 15, 2010 at

    Exceptional post. My class mates and I were just discussing this the other evening. Also your post looks good on my old palm treo. Now thats uncommon. Nice work.

  • Elin Hardina
    January 15, 2010 at

    I would like to say, excellent site. Im not sure if it has been addressed, however when using Chrome I can never get the whole site to load without refreshing many times. Maybe just my laptop. Thanks

  • Ashley Anderson
    December 19, 2009 at

    Well, I reckon I have a reason to go out into the cold and bitter today. I’m curious to see what these paintings look like up close.

  • eggtooth
    December 18, 2009 at

    At the core of Fahamu’s work is a frustraion with the polished and fit for public mechanization that,in meeting preconceived ideas of “done well”-does a damn good job of telling society how to better bling itself.(And actually-By using art)
    Not saying that typos and errors (forced errors)make something sacred or experimentally respectful.
    But I am saying fahamus work,in its polished edited existence-negates its message by being derivative academic clean polite products.
    This is especially relevant in atlanta’s existing cycle of only palating an obviously ineffective idea of professionalism- in a practice-Art- that shld have the will to recognize full potential and needs for given situs and if need be range outside of “proper”packaging and procedure
    Perhaps atlanta shld just ban art altogether.

  • Cinque
    December 18, 2009 at

    I agree with the first half of Jeremy’s last comment. The Internet is a medium, just like paper is a medium. People write well and shoddily online, just as they write well or shoddily on paper. McLuhan doesn’t pertain. The medium, it turns out, is not the message. The medium is the medium.

    The sort of cultural blindness that would dismiss online writing is most damaging not to the writers, but to those with the blind spot. You can hate online writing, you can disagree with it, but you ought not dismiss it. Those who underestimate it will learn about the flood ten minutes after they’ve drowned.

  • Jeremy Abernathy
    December 17, 2009 at

    Oh, and to Mr. Ingram, who wrote:

    ” … it is important to keep in mind that you are reading a review (an opinion) on the internet. Which may or may not be edited for content of [sic] even grammar.”

    Just a friendly FYI about BURNAWAY in general: It is important to keep in mind that ALL of our reviews are edited for content and – yes – even grammar. We have two proofreaders: Joyce Youmans, our Senior Editor, and yours truly. We aren’t perfect, but we do the best we can given our resources. Yes, there’s a lot of crap out there, but there are plenty of experienced writers doing quality work on the internet today. Do you really mean to discriminate against a writer simply because an article is on the web?

    (That said, if you find mistakes on our site, please let us know! Improving our publication is a constant effort, and we appreciate your input!)

    But I at least think you’re correct in saying that “you can’t get the full message in five paintings.” Still, I don’t think that invalidates Meghan’s statement that — for her — five paintings didn’t convey the same clear, culturally sensitive message that the artist’s statement attributed to the work. I think it’s fair to say that art is experienced differently by those who are familiar with an artist and those who are seeing the work for the first time. I mean, do we really believe that art in Atlanta is created for a handful of people who all know each other on first-name basis?

  • Jeremy Abernathy
    December 16, 2009 at

    Great discussion, guys! However, I would like to remind everyone that this is not the place for spam comments, senseless shouting, baiting of any type, or personal attacks.

    I’m not hearing many people addressing the central idea of Meghan’s criticism. Does it always undermine a stereotype when an artist imitates or appropriates it? Or does it take something more conscious and strategic?


  • Blurg
    December 16, 2009 at

    I wouldn’t call it a heated conversation, considering half the comments are by a spammer eggtooth, Nike, Kroger, Peter Mayhew, etc.

  • Meghan Norman
    December 16, 2009 at

    Fahamu Pecou is an important artist in the Atlanta community, as made obvious by the many comments on this article. I like and admire his early work. His stated concept for this series is strong, but given only the five paintings, I did not see that concept come to fruition. This is my opinion, and everyone is free to disagree with my ideas. I am curious to see how he will continue to build these upon these ideas he has set forth because he is talented. No doubt we will all be watching.

  • eggtooth
    December 15, 2009 at

    review will be published in artvoices. publication out of nola. touche’ on the bitch slapping, scott ingram. seriously.
    does anyone on here play poker?

  • Scott Ingram
    December 15, 2009 at

    Whether you like Fahamu’s work or not i believe that it is important to keep in mind that you are reading a review (an opinion) on the internet. Which may or may not be edited for content of even grammar. Curious enough, if the work is so ineffective, how did this “conversation” become so heated.

    The new paintings do not have the vibrant color of past work, but it also unfolds in a more meaningful way. There is conviction in the new work. Fahamu is growing and evolving, and if he isn’t allowed to do that in his community, then were? Is Fahamu the greatest painter in Atlanta? Is he trying to be? or is painting just part of his process? I like the scale, I personally believe they should be about 12′ tall, even larger than life, maybe billboards.

    I was at the talk, I’ve done studio visits with Fahamu and followed the work from the beginning. I think he is quite clear in his message, and you can’t get the full message in five paintings. Maybe that is where they fail for you. But perhaps he doesn’t want the full message in each painting.

    Eggtooth, your comments/replies destroy your credibility as a writer. When you write a review, you should stand by it, you don’t bitch slap people who don’t agree with you. Thicken your skin. You have the ability to be critical in your review. Your job is not to be critical of your readers. If I had to guess i would say you posted something you didn’t believe or understand 100%. As i read this review i find it more of a description of the exhibition, you never do say why you don’t like it. Write another review and tell me why it fails, or tell me why your opinion is so important that you can make me believe it fails.

  • Kroger
    December 15, 2009 at

    This eggtooth episode titled, ” i didnt know that i know what you dont”
    was brought to you by god not jumping over a chasm he cant make or ” i know you are but what am i?” pt 2…i believe.
    What do you think of Fahamu’s work, Orvil?

  • Peter Mayhew
    December 15, 2009 at

    Yes Fuck this dumcumster fucknut asshole fucking dickhead fucker eggtooth. i hate when he wrote about my sisters art. and his stuff is always mean about art. i hate him and he says crazy stupid things to hurt.

  • orvil reddenbacher
    December 15, 2009 at

    and leave that crack alone!

  • orvil reddenbacher
    December 15, 2009 at

    ummm this eggtooth character has a shaky grasp of grammaticals. and im thinking he or she just needs to give it a rest. i’m pretty sure u have nil to add to this discussion. run a long spermgums. and take the hauty “i know what u don’t attitude with ya. all your blathering about context is making my testicles ache.

  • eggtooth
    December 15, 2009 at

    My interest in the work is in how it fails.Ballast werewolf macha polyester bereavement tittle lips. What I identify with is the desire to ,the desire to…mulekick engine swamp godard barber knocked up address the context itself. Equestrian messenger instant orange mercury burlap apple planet How we share,communicate,& value. How we perceive bleeding knees for chinups jezum pesky leather pancake ourselves and affirm ourselves in what we do balloon people. As people,as sandwich clams stank puppetry 3rd st southwest off cleveland pinstriped fedora artists-and as art itself. it can be interesting to apply internet related symptoms to this….whisker of sea salt and parmalat big wig seal flay hurrah ka! ballast.
    The reason im interested in the work is also local for me.
    So often people seem shocked to realize we have an art scene- with interesting things happening. Buy more mcdonalds Atlanta for so long has been tied to a use more hairspray cycle of reporting an idea of correct pronunciation use your borders rewards marta pass limitations to itself. happy shows for happy vanguard fungus looming electric stereo edition hall syncopated hicks slap banjos Inadvertently and well intended, milltown weave character gerrymanders flofty graphic pods repeat pods repeat pods facade it has replaced compassion with complacence. We play a part presuming there’s this idea of potential,not realizing we orbit occiptal broca speech wernicke comprehension red light cafes laser ourselves have to create it-its not going to create them.and the first thing to do is admit that yr existing situ is false. and wreck it. fahamus borrows from this sentiment as if it is a given. fahumu’s work,hes not a scaled fish in any scale of a pond here. point being…his work ends up falling flat on its own face.twice. technique-is fine. pecan catnip he can push paint ping pong and design fine compositions on time-personality in the strokes themselves the over all feel..not really..so we’re left with the ..uum whater what-er ever wear fluff concept…now what?
    The opportunity to take chances here actually should be abound laminated leeches under a sunlamp in august. Freaky amazing experimental stuff should be happening as artists respond to each other-challenging each other-not having to admit that their crap is at least half crap because it had to adhere to professional needs. Blech! stupid tulsa doesnt have the artillery meander local There are places to share like this and ways to share like this in places where it would not seem possible. tooth hair floss vomit.
    As timeless a dilemma this is,it prevails here because it does not SEEM TO HAVE the context beneath it that is established by the experimental, the risk taking or otherwise somehow irrelevant and escaping of commodity. (hell-even atl’s graff guys sign their stuff “Murals” with name and contact info….)
    Atlanta-saturated with this idea of art,the “arts writers” to date have felt obligated primarily to help the blub blub monsoon trooper dungeon don knotts commercial rehearsal galleries that ultimately regurgitate these expectations. The arts writers have not and cannot be critics. The paradigm crunchy schism flakes created to date obligates behavior. Good things do happen here,but the soil is not fertile. To fertilize it is to address it. To call out not work that makes no “claims”-that work is worth ignoring bcause it simply is wut it iz- Address better itself – As critics and – and better and even and even better!-as artists!and(or better both at even once and about the process as a living performance)

  • ktauches
    December 15, 2009 at

    in the end, I think pecou paints well, but what the hell is he saying with this work? how has it evolved over the years? clearly he has talent and political inertia (people believe in him). he’s a good dramatist in the persona he fashions, the parties he throws and the straight forward cultural identity he represents in his paintings. Like a graphic designer, he has a knack for titillating imagery: hip hop ego, egyptian flavors, hot ladies, cover shot hype, Basquiat paint-out moments, pop culture typology tropes. (. . .his best innovation is the allusion to the black and white wonderfulness of Malick Sidibé–the high contrast painted patterns are some of the best moments, and I start to want to get rid of all that type. )

    but I, too, am disappointed that he so carefully hugs the parameters of his initial work. if he were as bold with expressing the deeper ideas and the creative experiments around them, as he is with publicity and career building, he would be that superstar in his paintings! I would love to see him take some real chances (especially in performance art) now that he’s growing in popularity and power.

    I know he is selling well in other art places, consciously making works at a size to fit museum walls. he’s savvy to know the hunger for African American voices in the fine arts. good for him. this is indeed an ambitious business and he’s going for it. but what about the part where he’s stepping up to be an artist critical of the glamour system, of the media and it’s treatment of race? he has set a stage, now what is he going to say? people hover nearby to listen.

    so, when he paints “american dream” upside down. . .how are we going to empathize with that. . .see any real discontent? . . . feels kind of like when nike uses the work revolution.

  • Kombo
    December 15, 2009 at

    Visually, the paintings are big and primarily monochrome, reminiscent of the opening stanzas of Conor Harrington’s stuff. I grew up in Zimbabwe and have been in the US for close to decade now (going back early next year), and personally thought the stated concept of the show had tons of mileage. The 5 pieces touch on some of that. One thing to consider is that these 5 pieces hold up better without the context of Malick Sidibe’s work which is hands-down awesome in its unaffected sincerity.

    Part of the writer’s stated disappointment may stem from the fact that Fahamu as an Atlanta art-scene (wow, we have one!?) persona may at times eclipse his work. If you make a distinction between the two, which is iffy. Context… con text. Comes with the territory. The article is perfunctory (do I detect fear of rebuttal?), but anything other than a fecal endorsement was bound to elicit a range of responses, both invested and otherwise. One thing even critics have to admit is that Pecou has taken the self-important bravado of many rappers and embodied it within visual artwork. The juxtaposition with African imagery is interesting and uncomfortable, bling and stunting seem trivial in that context.

  • eggtooth
    December 15, 2009 at

    Sweet jesus.
    I can’t decide if this is hilarious or mortifying-but I know this much:
    It’s very Atlanta.
    That shld b our new self-aware tag.
    Atlanta: every day is a networked suckasspseudo scene of pathetic product business hilarity mixed with a mortifying lack of culture.
    Squabble about in the charade as if its a functioning structure.
    Its work like fahamu’s(who I did interview). That is actually a potential success in its failure.
    Look at any of our abundance of happy lowbrow/postcard grope-show bonanzas-they mean well and aren’t worth critical review because they simply are what they are.look at kvares oh so fail and how his work is alone-objects-but with knowledge-implies observations relevant to a conflicted context for why we share our creations-look at fahamu’s work-it wears the important observation on its giant high dollar face and rapes it.his awareness made evident in the works position-makes him that much more responsible. We wait to see what Artadia did for him and our art community.

  • Jean
    December 15, 2009 at

    The critic seems like didn’t have an honest connection and true interest for understanding the artistic perspective of the artist. Saying that he went to Africa so he has African influence is like calling this article a respectable piece of journalism. Its just crazy. It sounds like the “writer” didn’t even interview the artist and if she/he did, they weren’t asking any in depth questions, probably just about his gumbi haircut, “oh its sooo cool!” I was at the show/party and let me tell you, the wine and liquor was pouring and the people were dancing their relaxers out. Its possible the “writer” had so much fun (liquor) that they didn’t know what to write because they couldn’t remember much about the exhibit and only had the few photos above that were given to them by the gallery and not even taken by the journalist themselves. In conclusion, this review sounds like a high school paper that was written the morning it was due and the writer turned it in hoping to get a C-. FAIL writer. Try again next time

  • MTM
    December 15, 2009 at

    First and foremost, Fahamu Pecou is the shit. Let’s just get that straight. But I happen to agree with Mike, I don’t like the scale. Very sexy paintings that wants to be movie poster size. We just get excited at the opportunity big work although it doesn’t always make it better or more interesting.

  • Susannah
    December 14, 2009 at

    I do think it is interesting to see how his older magazine covers series is translating into the newer work. In his older work, he made understated references to a larger African and African American history through slight touches like a name on the magazine covers he painted. Even though the names he used were subtle compared to the extremely loud paintings they were integrated in, they made very loud points. In this new work, now it seems like he is turning the tables a bit and is exploring more of how hip hop culture fits into an African identity, as opposed to vice versa. While the bright colored lettering and thought bubbles aren’t as inconspicuous as the “articles” in his previous work, I don’t think it overpowers the black and white paintings below. I actually disagree with Mike. I don’t think this led to a lack of quality at all. I think that Pecou’s competence as a painter is still extremely visible in this work, and I really love the attention to detail in his rendering of all of the fabrics he depicts.

    All in all, I think I am excited about this series, because I think that it is an interesting change in perspective from his previous work. I am really curious to see how he continues to build on the new series, as I think he has great ideas. Pecou’s persona he has built around himself alone make him an extremely interesting and dynamic creative personality to pay attention to, and I think that as he goes deeper into the idea of “blackness” as it relates to hip hop culture and an African identity more broadly he is capable of creating increasingly important work.

  • eggtooth
    December 14, 2009 at

    “…. sensation of contempt for the unrealistic imagery that pop culture often wishes to hammer society with through media is understandable. The origins of the idea are pure. They are inspiring. Fahamu’s work thanklessly gouges the theme and reduces it to something that presumptuously seems to be a given. The theme is no longer real,but a style or part of a language to utilize. Strategically connected with performative artist talking points and statements that sound more like an air-tight alibi for a contrived recipe, are large sparse painted product versions of graphic design sentiment, mingled with a book smart awareness of shirt sleeve Basquiat moments. They blandly hang before their viewer, hoping to dupe them into a continuation of the charade. It is work like this that is infuriating because it actually (vaguely- see william powhida*)brings up something important,establishes an exciting position, and uses it against itself -and most especially its viewers. It ultimately wishes to make fools of those (ahem) that even acknowledge it. It actually serves to retard cultural development…”
    blah blah blah said Eggtooth ist Rad

  • mike
    December 14, 2009 at

    Content aside, I thought his huge jump in scale led to decreased quality and lack of detail.

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