At 32, Fahamu Pecou, a Brooklyn born artist who moved to South Carolina at five-years-old, lives close to his studio, but drives his 1997 Nissan pickup truck to work, because â€œAtlanta is not a walking place,â€ says Pecou.
Pecouâ€™s NEOPOP project captures the vanity and folly of rap celebrity while provoking questions that Pecou struggles with himself: when people comment on Pecouâ€™s communication skills and oral delivery, as a black man, he says, â€œWhy wouldnâ€™t I be articulate?â€ (Pecouâ€™s painting So Clean and Articulate comments on Senator Joe Bidenâ€™s comments on Barack Obama â€“ clean, articulate and attractive black man â€“ and the one time a curator said, â€œOh my God, I canâ€™t believe how articulate you are!â€)
In September, Pecouâ€™s first solo New York gallery show was a success; â€œMore than anything, I recognize that if you can do it in New York you can do it anywhere,â€ says Pecou.
â€œI think that is irresponsible on the part of society to have children lead us.â€
Format: Youâ€™re educated and live in Atlanta. How has Atlanta influenced your creative process and final creations?
Fahamu Pecou: The thing that keeps me grounded in Atlanta is that the pace is slow enough that you can really enjoy quality of life and that is an attraction for me. The city is one of those places where it is not difficult for you to make a big name for yourself. There is a lot of fertile ground work and all kinds of ideas and projects to get light compared to a New York or L.A. where there are a million people thinking like you are. Being in Atlanta played a major role in how quickly this body of work has caught on. If I lived in New York doing this, it might not have caught light the way it did in Atlanta.
Format: What was your reaction to T.I.â€™s recent charges?
Fahamu Pecou: I was disappointed. Iâ€™m a fan. I think heâ€™s a really great artist and he exhibits a really positive image through his marketing. This incident that happened was really stupid, for lack of a better word. I expected more.
Format: The majority of artists face humble beginnings. What are some hardships youâ€™ve persevered through, in the early years of your career?
Fahamu Pecou: I think most of my hardships came in my childhood. By the time I got to adulthood I figured out how to stretch a dollar out. One of the biggest hardships at the start of my career was trying to navigate a career. That was something that was not taught to me in school. I learned some hard lessons and got knocked around a bit to figure it out. I wonâ€™t say that Iâ€™m a starving artist. Iâ€™ve always had a hustle, a way to make things work for me. As far as childhood, those hardships were more severe; I lost both my parents when I was four and then I was adopted. I went through finding my voice as an artist and art has been more of a salvation.
Format: In a past interview, you say, â€œPeople are really intimidated by my bodyguards and donâ€™t know if itâ€™s OK to talk to me or approach me, so I often catch someone staring.â€ Why do you need bodyguards?
Fahamu Pecou: Itâ€™s just part of the performance. I hire professional bodyguards, because I want everything to be legit. No one has ever tried to hurt me. When you think about celebrity presence, a lot of times a person does not have to act or say anything, but the presence they create moves people in a certain kind of way. The bodyguard, the models, all that is about presence â€“ itâ€™s about shifting peopleâ€™s perception of me before they have a chance to encounter me.
Format: Before you do your performances, do you have mental preparation to put you in character?
Fahamu Pecou: Yeah, itâ€™s really affirmation. The real me is pretty shy and laid back, so I have to hype myself up to get in the frame of mind to do the character. Itâ€™s funny, because my friends are usually the ones trying to get me hyped up. Theyâ€™re more into the character than I am.
Format: Please explain how your sticker and poster campaign, â€œFahamu Pecou is the shit,â€ materialized.
Fahamu Pecou: When I first came up with the title of the campaign, I was trying to figure out how to get people to recognize my name. I was at the point of sending materials to galleries and applying for shows and never getting feedback. I wanted a way to put my name out there so people would recognize my name and appear larger than what I was. I started by posting posters up that read â€˜Fahamu Pecou is the shitâ€™ and it didnâ€™t say why or what it was I did, it was just my name and a graphic of me with my shirt off. People started reacting to it by saying things like, â€˜Hey youâ€™re that guy.â€™ I did grab peopleâ€™s attentions and started to pick it up a notch with ad campaigns and T-shirts.
Format: Your canvases are six to seven feet in height. What are the challenges of working on such a large scale?
Fahamu Pecou: The challenges were far greater when I had a Honda Civic!
Format: Rapâ€™s responsibly to cultures and communities is larger than any other music genre. Do you think there is too much responsibly placed on rap music?
Fahamu Pecou: I think itâ€™s interesting that rap is used as a scapegoat for the ills of society. Itâ€™s reflective of our culture and society. Itâ€™s been traditional to place blame on poor black people for crime and drugs. Hip-hop is a thing people love to hate. It makes so much people so much money, but they have nothing vested in it; if it generates money for them, good, if it generates money for them when itâ€™s doing bad, good. I think too much responsibility is placed on hip-hop artists. If you think about there are very few rappers who are over the age of 30 who are still making music and selling records. The majority of the rappers are young kids in their late teens or early 20s. Most of them have not experienced what will shape who theyâ€™ll be as men and women, and weâ€™re expecting them to lead the masses of people. I think that is irresponsible on the part of society to have children lead us.
Format: Often, mainstream media sources like CNN project negative coverage on rap music by examining rap music through BET. In your opinion, should BET act as a gatekeeper to what kind of imagery and message rap music projects to the public?
Fahamu Pecou: Itâ€™s interesting you ask that. I do a series of hip-hop roundtable discussions and one of the issues that often comes up is that corporations and media are controlling the gates of what people are able to hear or see in hip-hop. I donâ€™t think BET or MTV are equipped enough to be the appropriate keepers of the music or culture, partly, because they have commercial interest in it so theyâ€™re not interested in promoting an artist whose content is contradictory to what their agenda is. Theyâ€™ll put their energy behind whoever is making the most money. I think a lot of times there are a lot of great artists that donâ€™t get any kind of coverage, because of what these corporationsâ€™ agendas are. Whatâ€™s reported as far as hip-hop in the media is also an issue. They donâ€™t talk about David Bannerâ€™s community programs, he does positive stuff, but you donâ€™t hear about that. Instead, they talk about T.I. getting busted with guns.
Format: Please explain the message in your painting Die Standing.
Fahamu Pecou: There is a Mexican revolutionary named Emiliano Zapata who is coined by saying, â€˜Itâ€™s better to die standing than to live on your knees.â€™ It really illustrates my philosophy about life and my work. Rather than wait or beg or ask permission, just stand up and take it. Not doing what the system expects you to do.
Format: NEOPOP uses real magazine names for your faux magazine covers. Have you experienced legal action against your use of these magazine names for NEOPOP?
Fahamu Pecou: No. As a matter of fact, most magazines contact me and ask me to do a cover. I have not had issues regarding names.
Format: When creating your NEOPOP character, who are the celebrities that you tried to project through your character?
Fahamu Pecou: In the beginning it was a mockery of 50 Cent, but since then itâ€™s all kinds of celebrities rolled into one. The character evolved a life of its own. I donâ€™t know what a lot of what Iâ€™m doing with the creation of the character is really conscious.
Format: Please explain the message in your painting So Clean and Articulate.
Fahamu Pecou: That was a crack at Joe Biden commenting on Barack Obama being a clean, articulate and good looking black man. As a black man, itâ€™s one of those weird compliments that people give you from time to time: you can put sentences together without cursing every word, why wouldnâ€™t I be articulate? I did a presentation at a public art project that I did and when I finished speaking, a curator that I knew for a long time was said, â€˜Oh my God, I canâ€™t believe how articulate you are!â€™ It was kind of a joke back at that, too.
Format: CNN and other news sources are covering whether Barack Obama is black enough. What is your reaction to their coverage on that subject?
Fahamu Pecou: America has a really big problem in the way it deals with black people. Often, the way it deals with black people is to faction them into different groups: dark skinned blacks, light skinned blacks; ghetto blacks, educated blacks; or black men verses black women. Itâ€™s pitting people against each other. To me, itâ€™s one of those things where as long as weâ€™re fighting ourselves, we cannot fight the real enemy: oppression, racism, classism and everything else that affects the community. Thatâ€™s how I feel about the â€˜Is Barack Obama black enough?â€™ To me, it shouldnâ€™t be an issue. Heâ€™s running for President of the United States so our question should be, â€˜Is he a person that can lead this country?â€™ not â€˜Is he black enough to attract a black vote?â€™ If you split the black vote between Obama and Clinton, while the GOP is running their one candidate while everyone aligned behind their one candidate, who wins?
Format: In September, you had your first solo New York gallery exhibition. How was the experience and is the pressure of a New York exhibition different than your past exhibitions in smaller cities?
Fahamu Pecou: I wonâ€™t front and say I wasnâ€™t intimidated by it, but I realized that it was my audience for what Iâ€™m doing. I havenâ€™t had a solo show in New York, but I did a couple groups shows and each time I did really well. More than anything, I recognize that if you can do it in New York you can do it anywhere. I was more nervous by that. Whatever I said, I wanted it to be my A game.
Format: Do you find the reactions to your shows are different based on geographic location?
Fahamu Pecou: No. I think, for the most part, wherever I am the idea is that I still resonate in all those places. The most interesting thing that occurs is the type of crowds that I get at the shows. Not people reacting differently, but the people who come out are different. In Dallas, a lot of people came to the opening reception and they were mostly older white people. In the closing reception it was mostly black people my age. It was kind of odd, because most of those people have not been to an art gallery before. I get that a lot, too. People come out who may not be into the day to day art gallery dealings, but theyâ€™re inspired by my work and show up.
Format: Please explain the message in your painting King Kong Ainâ€™t Got Shit On Me.
Fahamu Pecou: Thatâ€™s just bravado, thatâ€™s me talking shit. The line comes from Training Day. Part of my character is about bravado and sticking his chest out.
Format: What impact has NEOPOPâ€™s message had on its audience?
Fahamu Pecou: To meet another one of the greatest things was to meet another young black person that is interested in art after seeing my work. That is a great feeling for me. I didnâ€™t grow up going to galleries or museums. I just didnâ€™t have the resources. I think in America, a lot of black people feel that art is something for white people. Most of my collectors are middle-aged white couples. I can count two or three black people that have bought my work. I think a lot of people can react to my work, because the messages Iâ€™m dealing with are universal.
More Info: http://www.fahamupecouart.com