Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Item - Sumter Article

2 exhibitions at Sumter gallery examine black experience
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
From Staff reporters

It may be difficult to spot Colin Quashie's second-story studio if you aren't explicitly looking for it. An indistinct C and Q pasted to a glass door are the only clues that something else goes on in this standalone brick-and-concrete building on Upper King Street besides the haircuts that take place in the first-floor barber shop. It doesn't help that the logo gives a better impression of a cloud than a formal set of initials, the puffy and bulbous letters joined together in a cartoonish fashion. So instead, a better sign of what happens on the second story may be in the downstairs shop, where one of Quashie's works hangs on a wall near the wide windows.

Both artists in the new exhibitions at the Sumter County Gallery of Art examine cultural issues related to the black experience in America through images of the past and the present. Charleston resident Colin Quashie's "The Plantation (Plan-ta-shun)" and Atlanta-based Fahamu Pecou's "Native Son: Fahamu Pecou, 2009 to Now" open Friday with a 5:30 to 7 p.m. reception.

Quashie's mixed-media show examines the way "the South glorifies the past," while avoiding the subject of slavery.

"The Plantation is not about slavery," he explained. "No one, black or white, wants to talk about slavery. Instead, the show deals with different aspects of plantation life, the pros and the cons. Ultimately, it is about the past and the present.

"As far as they (some Charlestonians) are concerned, the past isn't the past. It's still the present. So that's what we market, that's what we sell, but we do it in a lot of different ways, and plantations are a mirror of that. Plantations are in the present, but they reflect the past, and depending on your sensibilities and the way you look at the plantation system tells a lot about what your sensibilities are."

The exhibition does have a "softer side," Quashie said, "both in meaning and in presentation. ... I realized I was kind of getting out there a little bit as far as the cynicism was concerned, and so I wanted to pull it back in, because the bottom line is I also wanted to talk about who were the real people who lived on these plantations ... ."

Quashie was born in London, England, in 1963 and raised in the West Indies. When he was 6, his parents immigrated to the United States and settled in Daytona Beach, Fla. He briefly attended the University of Florida on a full academic scholarship and then joined the Navy as a submarine Sonarman. He has also worked as a comedy sketch writer on "Mad TV" and six other comedy series. He was an associate producer on an independent feature film and in 2001 received an Emmy award for documentary writing. He lives in Charleston, where he paints while developing work for television and freelancing as a graphic artist.

Pecou is an American painter, performer and video artist based in Atlanta. His work utilizes self-portraiture to challenge and dissect society's representation of black masculinity in popular culture today, said gallery director Karen Watson. "An early and ongoing ruse includes a series of paintings featuring the covers of art magazines bearing his likeness - and how these images come to define black men across generational, geographical and economic boundaries."

Pecou said his work "can be viewed as meditations on contemporary popular culture. I began my career experimenting with practices employed in contemporary branding strategies, particularly as they pertained to hip-hop music. These experiments ultimately led me to question not only the stereotypes that drive consumerism, fame, celebrity-worship etc., but how an unspoken racial and cultural divide often influenced these factors.

"I appear in my work not in an autobiographical sense, but as an allegory. My character becomes a stand-in to represent black masculinity and both the realities and fantasies projected from and onto black male bodies. I seek to challenge the expectations around black men and, to a larger extent, society in general. Adopting the traits typically associated with black men in hip hop, I appropriate their more popular associations and distort or exaggerate them by placing them within a fine art context. The end result is a parody on our obsession with celebrity, our exploitation of black masculinity and the divide that racial ignorance and stereotypes perpetuate. These ideas are expressed in paintings, videos and live performances. Each medium allows me to articulate various nuances around my themes and further distort the assumptions we tend to make about one another."

Pecou grew up in Hartsville and has been featured in several solo and group exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad. His work has been reviewed and featured in numerous publications.

Both artists have been awarded prestigious residencies and have exhibited widely. In fall 2012, Pecou exhibited a series of new work: "All Dat Glitters Ain't Goals" at the Lyon-Weir Gallery in New York City. The show in Sumter, his first in South Carolina, includes several pieces from the NY show.

Watson observed that it has been a few years since SCGA has had two challenging exhibitions such as these. She expressed confidence in the sophistication of the audience in Sumter as well as beyond, "to be able to view and discuss provocative art and perhaps come away with a better understanding and appreciation of how historical, social and psychological forces shape our individual lives in different ways."

Pecou will give an artist talk following Friday's reception, to which the public is invited. Gallery members are admitted free, non-members for $5.

With public funding still greatly reduced because of the economy, Watson noted, the gallery "would not be able to present important exhibitions like these without the support of businesses and individuals who support SCGA's efforts to offer a wider art world to the citizens of Sumter. Special thanks to SAFE Federal Credit Union, DeAnne and Elielson Messais, Palmer Memorial Chapel, Rep. and Mrs. J. David Weeks and Carolina Diabetes & Kidney Center for making this show possible."

With public funding still greatly reduced because of the economy, Watson noted, the gallery "would not be able to present important exhibitions like these without the support of businesses and individuals who support SCGA's efforts to offer a wider art world to the citizens of Sumter. Special thanks to SAFE Federal Credit Union, DeAnne and Elielson Messais, Palmer Memorial Chapel, Rep. and Mrs. J. David Weeks and Carolina Diabetes & Kidney Center for making this show possible."

The Sumter County Gallery of Art, 200 Hasell St., Sumter, presents exhibitions by Colin Quashie and Fahamu Pecou from Nov. 9 to Jan. 11, 2013. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Call (803) 775-0543 for more information.

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