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2023 Common Work of Art

Parable of the Sower: Oya’s Dream, Fahamu Pecou

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Each year the Spencer Museum selects a Common Work of Art to provide a visual pairing with the KU Common Book. This year’s selection is a commissioned painting by Fahamu Pecou to accompany Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.

Written in 1993 but set in 2024, Butler’s post-apocalyptic novel is about a young hyper-empathic woman named Lauren Oya Olamina who intends to establish a new religion. As Lauren encounters climate change, structural inequality, and social collapse, we as readers can learn to embrace change, seek expertise, and support and trust one another.

Parable of the Sower: Oya’s Dream depicts a pregnant Black woman who reclines with a copy of Butler’s novel held over her face and a portrayal of the orisha (god or goddess) Oya balancing on her hip. Oya is an orisha in Ifá cosmology, a belief system practiced by Yoruba peoples of West Africa and believers in many parts of the African diaspora.

Pecou elaborates:

“Oya, the orisha of change and transformation, serves as a powerful symbol in Ifá cosmology. Through the character of Lauren in Octavia Butler's Parable novels, we witness the importance of mentally, spiritually, and physically preparing for the storms of life. By embracing the inevitability of change and cultivating the seeds of possibility within us, we can navigate the tumultuous waters of transformation and emerge stronger, wiser, and more aligned with our true selves. Oya teaches us that change is not something to be feared, but rather a catalyst for growth and evolution.”

This painting is part of Pecou’s Trapademia: Lit series, which juxtaposes Black bodies with famous literary works by Black authors. The series title refers to trap music, a sub-genre of hip-hop, and the euphemism “lit,” which means aroused or excited and is also an abbreviation for literature. The Common Work of Art is featured in the Spencer’s fall exhibition Black Writing, which explores the power, politics, and complexities of language in contemporary Black culture. The exhibition is a collaboration celebrating the 40th anniversary of KU’s History of Black Writing program.

The Common Work of Art and Black Writing will be on view at the Spencer Museum August 19, 2023 - January 7, 2024.

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Learn more:

Read Fahamu Pecou’s statement about the Common Work of Art

Watch Fahamu Pecou discuss his Trapademia: Lit series (2:02–4:39)

Explore Fahamu Pecou’s website

Related assignments:

Adding Art to the KU Common Book

Engaging with Art and the Common Book