DO or DIE: Affect, Ritual, Resistance by Dr. Fahamu Pecou Opens at the Michael C. Carlos Museum

The Michael C. Carlos Museum presents DO or DIE: Affect, Ritual, and Resistance by Fahamu Pecou, an Atlanta-based artist and Emory University alumnus who earned his Ph.D. in 2018. The exhibition will be on view from January 19 through April 28, 2019.

DO or DIE: Affect, Ritual, Resistance explores the intersections between African-based spiritual traditions and the political and societal violence against black male bodies in the US. Pecou positions these bodies within Ifá, a diasporic religion of the Yoruba of southwest Nigeria; here, where spirits are infinite, a healing alternative exists for slain black men—Martin, Medgar, Emmitt, Trayvon, and Michael among them—and their communities. DO or DIE, notes Pecou, “considers affective power of art as a space of resistance. These works examine and incorporate the power of creative expression and ritual—particularly those found in Yoruba/ Ifá spirituality—interpreted through various art mediums.”

Centered around his Egungun mask, Pecou uses painting, drawing, photography, and video to depict the spirit’s journey, including its encounters with divinity and its invocation through the ceremonial Egungun dance. According to Curator of African Art Amanda Hellman, “African masking gives shape to that which cannot be seen. Wearing the Egungun, the dancer disappears and the ancestor is revealed.” Incarnate, the spirit upholds justice within the community. DO or DIE, Pecou suggests, “affirms life and life beyond. . . . It reclaims what was lost.” 

The Carlos Museum, the exhibition’s fourth stop on tour, will offer two unique opportunities for visitors. Four new works from Pecou—three drawings and one large painting—and the museum’s African galleries, in which historic Yoruba artwork such as two Egunguns from the permanent collection will be on view, will provide a wider look at both Pecou’s oeuvre and the culture from which DO or DIE has taken inspiration. 

Pecou acknowledges the importance of African and African American history and culture to his work. “African spirituality, concepts, and philosophies allow us space and freedom to think about and see ourselves as whole and human. These ideals contradict the broken, tortured, and oppressed images of blackness that we find in the context of Western visual culture. It’s imperative to realize and to know that our history and our culture predates the enslavement of our ancestors as well as the history of our oppressors,” he argues. “There is a freedom in acknowledging that our ancestors were not ‘slaves,’ but a people who were violently and forcefully enslaved. That they had cities and schools, art, and culture that predate the European enlightenment by millennia. THIS is who we can be. THIS is who we are. “

This exhibition has been organized by the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charles, in collaboration with the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University.

Pecou is an interdisciplinary artist and scholar whose works combine observations on hip-hop, fine art, and popular culture. His paintings, performance art, and academic work addresses concerns around contemporary representations of black masculinity and how these images impact both the reading and performance of it.

Pecou received his BFA at the Atlanta College of Art in 1997 and an MA from Emory University in 2017. In 2018, he graduated with a PhD from Emory University’s Institute of Liberal Arts. Pecou maintains an active exhibition schedule as well as public lectures and speaking engagements at colleges and museums nationwide.

In 2017 Pecou was the subject of a retrospective exhibition “Miroirs de l’Homme” in Paris, France. He is a recipient of the 2016 Joan Mitchell Foundation “Painters and Sculptors” Award. His work is featured in noted private and public national and international collections including; Smithsonian National Museum of African American Art and Culture, Societe Generale (Paris), Nasher Museum at Duke University, The High Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Seattle Art Museum, Paul R. Jones Collection, Clark Atlanta University Art Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia, and the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

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