"WARN-A-BROTHER" 2008 © Fahamu Pecou
In the future, historians will tell what happened. Artists will tell how it felt.
My work around Black masculinity responds to the way the images we ingest influence the image we ultimately project.
Even more I am interested in the way the visual sphere of Black manhood is constantly manipulated to serve a particular agenda.
In recent cases like the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, we’ve witnessed the way the lives of young black men who’ve died senselessly at the hands of police are vilified by the media - often as a way of exonerating law enforcement of any type of negligence.
"Assume the Imposition" 2009 © Fahamu Pecou
As a visual and performing artist I am hyper aware of the way images serve as propaganda. I’ve adopted those same strategies in my work as a way of encouraging a critical dialogue. My work is in many ways an intervention, a disturbance, a troubling of still waters. In it I ask; What is Black masculinity? And by what means/terms/actions is it defined?
I argue that for too long these questions have been answered by those other than the subjects themselves. Our collective ideas about black masculinity are often determined for us, not by us.
In “Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness”, scholar Nicole Fleetwood discusses the way certain signs and narrative scripts render the cultural body in visual culture. In the case of Black men, the narrative script remains rooted in fear, a fear that has historically worked to justify inequitable treatment of black males within society by imaging them as violent and criminal. The propaganda machine of our society continues to perpetuate an implied and inherent criminality of Black men. A part of resisting the outright assault on people of color is raising awareness to the way hegemonic systems of racism and prejudice inform and influence not only police reaction to young Black people, but society as well.
This becomes my charge and my mission. As an artist I am committed to a visual vocalization of these concerns. I am committed to creating a body of work that both sparks and stokes the conversation. This is art and activism. This is heart and soul.
"One [creates] out of one thing only-one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art." -James Baldwin
I’ve long argued the insanity of marking the moral compass of the Black community on the movement and activities of rappers. NOT because I think rappers are exempt from critique, but BECAUSE they are, for the most part, KIDS!
What other community of people makes their children their role models? So no, I don’t get upset with children for doing childish things, I reserve my anger for the adults who mimic them and even more, for the adults who fail to guide them.
I remember what I was like at 18 years old. Having the level of money that these young men and women have access to - along with the admiration and often desperation that follows said money - I can only imagine how wreck-less I would have been.
In most other cases, kids grow up. We get the privilege of watching the evolution of say, John Mayer, Adam Levine, or even Kid Rock. In their youth, their bad boy antics made headlines. The people they hurt or offended, forgive. They mature and become role models and icons - seasoned veterans of entertainment who win lifetime achievement awards.
Rappers on the other hand generally have a brief and tumultuous shelf life. By the time many reach 25 they are obsolete, imprisoned, or dead. There are literally only a handful of rappers who remain relevant in the industry who can look back and admonish their juvenile delinquency.
Artists and entertainers are role models (often unwittingly) due to their visibility. In this respect it’s understandable to have heightened expectations of their comportment. However, we all evolve. With age comes maturity and wisdom. Sadly for many rappers, that very small window of youth becomes a prison of sorts - for both them and their audience - as their irresponsibility endures as a measure of their moral aptitude.
I sincerely appreciate this perspective from Dame Dash on how his own evolution has allowed him a different view of his past, his present and our collective future.
Listen to Dame Dash here: