SEEN: University Art Gallery presents exhibition by Fahamu Pecou

Amelia Leaphart   

Fahamu Pecou’s exhibition, Behind the Seen: Process, Performance, and Practice, opened in the University Art Gallery on January 11. The exhibition manipulates stereotypes of Black masculinity and identity through photography and pop culture symbols, such as Trap music, West African images, and academia, challenging the viewer against their own gaze. 

On January 20, Fahamu Pecou discussed his exhibition, Seen, with International and Global Studies professor Dr. Emmanuel Asiedu-Acquah in Guerry Auditorium. Now an Atlanta-based artist with a B.F.A from Atlanta College of Art (1997) and a Ph.D. from Emory (2018), Pecou noted how he grew up without exposure to the fine arts. Drawing since five-years old, cartoons served as his window into the artistic world. His inclination for intertwining research and academia into his experimental artwork began in college. 

In his introduction for Seen, Pecou referenced scholars such as Erving Coffman, Jaques Lacan, and Bell Hooks, all intellectuals who explore themes of identity and external reflections. Pecou focused their ideas on images of Black men. Black masculinity, often, according to Pecou, is presented as either threatening or hyper-stylized. Beginning his artistic career working in New York as a designer for hip-hop artists, he noticed the differences between their marketed image versus their character outside of public perception. A believer in the arts as a medium for social change, his projects include We Can’t Cop Cars without seeing Cop Cars on the Atlanta Beltline and opening the African Diaspora Museum of Atlanta. On January 19, Atlanta mayor Andre Dickens named Pecou to his transition team.

A picture of two of the pieces from Pecou’s exhibition. Photo courtesy of Amelia Leaphart.

Seen acts as his first photography-based exhibition, marking new territory for him, as his dissertation project, “Do or Die,” functioned as a performance exploring African spirituality and contemporary black identity. The University Art Gallery marks its first exhibition, although his work on Seen began a year ago and the initial showcase was postponed due to COVID. 

Maddy Leone (C ’25) and KR Stiegler (C ’25) attended the event at the recommendation of their “Philosophy of Art” professor. Both students praised his story-telling ability and were fascinated by his discussion about his family.

After his talk, when asked in the gallery about presenting his work in an academic environment, Pecou said, “It’s not limited to academic environments. But I do always appreciate the opportunity to engage in academic spaces. Because the work isn’t just about looking beautiful… we can discuss ideas and stories, we can have different conversations outside of its commercial value…a commercial gallery, there is often a pressure to sell your work.”

Art history professor Leslie Todd is teaching a class called “Visualizing the Other in Latin America,” and she required her students to attend the event as a section of the course is dedicated to examining African representation in Latin American art in the early modern period. 

A line he both mentioned in his talk and included in the text for the gallery that resonated with Todd describes how his manipulation of images intends ‘to make us think about our own act of looking.’

“…it resonates more when you hear them say it and explain what they mean. That particular idea of the images not just being about representation, about something that we see and consume, but that’s then reflecting and refracting back on us as viewers, and pushing us to think about how we are participating in the image,” said Todd.

Seen will remain in the gallery until March 9, 2022.