Sunday, April 23, 2017


Fahamu Pecou, Shoe Fly, 2017, mixed media on paper,
60x40" re-post (link)

Out in the world is a political circus with people yelling and screaming from all sides. But I like my politics more subtle, quiet, and longer lasting than a soundbite or a tweet. For that, I would go see some art, and not just any art, but the shows up at Conduit Gallery. Robert Barsamian and Fahanmu Pecou may not be depicting the next drama on the news, but rather you will see them digging deeper into the cultural and historical worlds to pull out meaning and give us perspective.

I have seen both Pecou and Barsamian at Conduit Gallery before. Fahanmu Pecou is known for his highly charged self-portrait paintings depicting himself as an art star. I was listening to an interview with Kerry James Marshall on Bad at Sports podcast, and his description of how to find your nitch in the art world made me think about Pecou. After all, I am sure Pecou looked around and thought what the art world needed was more African American art stars, so he started making that happen visually. However, this show is digging a little deeper into the culture of African American neighborhoods. The drawings and shoe installation depict a moment that has so much myth associated with shoes thrown over power lines that not one story can be picked out as the source of meaning. Therefore, meaning has been layered over this act of throwing the shoes. Some have been very negative, particularly by observers looking from the outside of the African American communities. But with such a fluid meaning comes the possibility of strong positive messaging. After all, this act of throwing the shoes and hanging them on lines has traveled outside the source communities and has traveled across the world. The shoes, which sometimes are expensive, symbolize longing. A moment when someone feels stuck and then takes action that symbolizes a way out. The person in Memory as Medicine is in a similar pose to Rage the Flow Thrower by Banksy. However, Pecou is not interested in mediocre irony, but rather he shows a moment of someone preparing to make a real statement. A statement that might be desperate or ultimately futile, but something from the gut, felt deep inside and isn’t that feeling a victory in an of itself.

Robert Barsamian is mining history for this show as a reminder that going back isn’t all sunshine, unicorns, and rainbows. Barsamian might be using a big stick because the messages seem to be clear cut in this body of work. Jefferson's Indian Removal Act is a painting that shows the plight of Native Americans. But this moment of the past makes you think about the Dakota Pipeline issue of the present. American Circus 2017-2022 is a painting of what Barsamian thinks the next four years in politics is going to be, but the objects he rendered are pulled from old sources. I can see how the current political climate has been a real shock to Barsamian’s system. His reactions are at the level of open engagement and holding the past up to the viewer act as reminders or warning signs. I wish in some of the pieces there was a little more ambiguity, but overall each work will likely talk about the past and present for the foreseeable future.

Fahanmu Pecou and Robert Barsamian will be showing their work through the 25th of March. Don’t forget to see the project room with Maria Molteni’s show titled NCAA Presents: Sidelines: Soft Power in the Margins. It is just in time for March Madness.

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