Romuald Hazoume

“Art essentially is like a potato: it grows everywhere in the world, but it has different tastes”.

Recycling is an interesting way how to express yourself. I have been amazed by what people can do with the trash and the message behind. Today I wish to share with you one particular artist from Africa who recycles the discarded gasoline canisters.

His work is very interesting and inspiring.

Romuald Hazoumè (born 1962 in Porto Novo) is an artist from the Republic of Bénin, best known for his work La Bouche du Roi, a reworking of the 1789 image of the slave ship Brookes.

La Bouche du Roi was widely exhibited in the United Kingdom as part of the centenary remembrance of the Slave Trade Act 1807 by Parliament. He only uses recycled materials to create his works.

La Bouche du Roi is a multi-media installation, the main components of which are 304 ‘masks’ made from black plastic petrol cans, a CD of sounds and voices, and a short film detailing the lives of motorcyclists who run petrol between Bénin and Nigeria, a form of modern-day slavery.

These cans, which are pervasive throughout his work are used to consciously call attention to their use in Benin, where the black market for fuel literally fuels an illegal, but prolific trade between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin.

Hazoumè is also known for his mask series. He started this phase of his art in the mid-1980s. These masks, made from discarded gasoline canisters, resemble those used in traditional African culture and ceremonies. In explaining these works, Hazoumè has said: “I send back to the West that which belongs to them, that is to say, the refuse of consumer society that invades us every day.”

Hazoumé’s practice deals with the social and political history of not just Benin, but of Africa and Africa’s dynamic, ever-changing role within the international art scene. He is quick however to repudiate the idea that Africa’s problems exist as an anomaly; “We need to understand that we have the same problems all over the world on different levels. We all take up this “Coca Cola” culture, which makes us unaware of our own culture.” He argues that we exist within a global situation in which we are all unaware of our own direction and origins – a problem that he deals with in his work.

Hazoumé, unlike many artists who have homes and studios in various cities, still resides and works in Benin, using the land and the Republic’s history as a source of inspiration for his work: “I answer questions that preoccupy my people. I am compelled to respond in my way.” It is for this reason that the Beninese community is so receptive and cognizant of his work and he continues on to state that, “They know it, because they know me, I am in the midst of them. They do not find out through the local media, because African journalists have ears only for the mediocre politics of our country.”

The lack of media attention within Africa for contemporary art is a major problem, and Hazoumé argues that contemporary African artists only garner media attention within Africa once they have filtered through the foreign press. Lately, the amount of media attention focused on contemporary African art has increased exponentially. However, the breadth and scope of contemporary art means that no matter how much media and press is focused on Africa we still will be unable to cover it in its entirety.

I hope you enjoyed today’s upcycled discovery and maybe it inspired you too to be better and more responsible human on this beautiful planet.

Your Hana