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.
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.
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.