Nunna My Heroes: A conversation with Fahamu Pecou 

click to enlarge “Nunna My Heroes: After Barkley Hendricks’ ‘Icon for My Man Superman’, 1969” - FAHAMU PECOU
  • Fahamu Pecou
  • “Nunna My Heroes: After Barkley Hendricks’ ‘Icon for My Man Superman’, 1969”

There’s still time to experience subversive superheroes at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art with the special exhibit “Men of Steel, Women of Wonder,” before it closes April 22.

Created by the museum’s Assistant Curator Alejo Benedetti, the exhibit puts over 50 artists, spanning from the Depression era to today, in conversation with American superheroes, tackling issues of race, gender and sexuality — and presenting, in the museum's words, their “art world responses to Superman and Wonder Woman."

click to enlarge "Between the Capes" - RICH SIMMONS
  • Rich Simmons
  • "Between the Capes"

Rich Simmons' 2014 painting “Between the Capes,” for example, depicts Superman and Batman embraced in a kiss. A live recreation of the embrace in front of the painting was immortalized via photo and posted to Instagram. It's one of the museum’s most popular posts, with more than 5,785 likes.

Fahamu Pecou’s “Nunna My Heroes,” is both self-portrait and direct homage to “Icon For My Man Superman,” a 1969 painting by Barkley Hendricks. Adorned in Kanye West-style sunglasses, a suit jacket and confidently striding out of a painted picture frame as he rips open a button-up blouse to expose an iconic Superman logo with an F instead of an S, “Nunna My Heroes” was inspired by the idea that black people need to be their own heroes.

“There isn’t really a savior that’s going to come from the sky and rescue us,” Pecou told this reporter. ”When we step into the space of hero and activate our own powers — we can actually become heroes and do the work that needs to be done.” Pecou finds his inclusion in a superhero and comic book exhibit fitting and recalls his earliest days at Atlanta College of Art, where he began as an animation major. He’d wanted to be a cartoonist since he was nine, but didn’t think he’d be able to make any money as a fine artist.

That all changed one fateful day when a friend dragged him to Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. “Once I was introduced to fine art and painting it became a medium that allowed me to express myself in the fullness and complexity that was really at my heart,” he explained. The next week he changed his major from animation to painting. He never looked back.

The transformative power of art is foundational for Pecou, who opened up about losing his mother when he was only four years old. He recalled listening to the 1995 Goodie Mob single “Guess Who,” a hip hop anthem about the the importance of mothers.
“When I listened to that song, I understood everything that they were saying,” he said. The song inspired him to create an undergraduate thesis exhibit that explored an incredibly traumatic loss he witnessed with his siblings, but had never before discussed.

“It was a very personal show that recounted the night that my mother died,” he said about his thesis exhibition. “I began to express what I experienced through the artwork and it was very intimate."

When the show opened, Pecou saw people reacting powerfully and emotionally to his paintings. “I realized then what art was, and the power of what art could do,” he said. “People began sharing personal stories of their own traumas and tragic events in their lives.” Working through trauma, as well as reclaiming of black masculinity informs everything Pecou creates.

“My work attempts to provide an intervention by showing the complexity and humanity of black men, " he said, "to show that we’re more than the stereotypes that are being represented in visual culture. I think that becomes transformative and allows people the potential to see beyond what the rest of the world attempts to tell you or dictate to you that you can be.”




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