Romuald Hazoumè, Art Out of Discarded Materials

Romuald Hazoumè - Rat-Singer, Second to God. Photo: Flikr
Romuald Hazoumè - Rat-Singer, Second to God. Photo: Flikr

Mixed Media Contemporary Artist

Multi-disciplinary 3D artist and sculptor Yoruba artist, Romuald Hazoumè works with recycled materials, photography, film-making and assemblage of large installations. His appropriation of found objects are reconstructed in unfamiliar assemblages. With these objects being placed in a very particular way, he manages to give them new meanings. The powerful and ambitious creations truly mark Romuald Hazoumè as an innovative and original artist.

The contemporary African artist first rose to prominence in 1992 thanks to his inclusion in Saatchi Gallery’s Out of Africa Show. Born in 1962 in Porto Novo, Benin, the Yoruba mixed media artist is mainly known for his found-object creations and “mask” works. His very unique works are often representative of slavery, racism and colonization.

His practice incorporates discarded materials such as petrol cans, plastic fuel containers and rubber tubing. Some other everyday use discarded items which he often use are toilet brushes and rusty spoons among various other things. Romuald Hazoumè’s most iconic works are his mask series made out of plastic containers with which he recreates African faces. The masks closely resemble the ones used in traditional African culture and ceremonies.

Romuald Hazoumè

Modern Slavery Pictured by Romuald Hazoumè

Aside from his found-objects art, another major element in Romuald Hazoumè’s practice is photography. He captures the black market fuel transportation referred to as Kpayo. His photograps focus on the Beninese men forced to ferry contraband petrol between Nigerian sources and the Beninese consumers. It is estimated that 90% of all fuel used in Benin passes through these black market channels. His installation works often feature stacks of these plastic containers.

Twin Airbags by Romuald Hazoumè. Photo: Octobergallery

His photographic series exposes the undercover system of gross exploitation. Same as with the masks, slavery is a recurring theme in his photographs. Not historical slavery dominated by western power but more modern equivalents.

Traditions Preserved Through his Paintings

Romuald Hazoumè has also been painting for many years. His canvases are deeply personal and are his way to preserving the symbolic language of various West African tribes from Niger, Ghana and Cameroon.

His painting collections are updated yearly by using old mural techniques. As background for his linear symbols, the artist rubs natural pigments like ocre and terracotta into his canvases.

International Exposure

The artist’s work is displayed in galleries and art shows around the world. One of his most famous work La Bouche du Roi (2007) which consists of 304 petrol cans strategically arranged in the shape of a slave ship is displayed at the British Museum in London for the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade.

Romuald Hazoumè’s work is shown in major galleries and museums such as the British Museum, London, Paris, Pompidou, New York, ICP among others. Having received international acclaim for his show “Made in Porto-Novo”, his position as one of the most important African contemporary artists working today is only solidified. He also received the 2007 Arnold Bodé Prize at documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany.

Oiseau bleu – Romuald Hazoumè. Photo: whitewall

The Message Behind His Art

Algoma – Romuald Hazoumè. Photo: whitewall

Proud of his Yoruban heritage, he deals with issues of his country. His masks are seen as contemporary portraits which often represents people from Africa, most specifically Benin. Romuald Hazoumè knows that he is crossing cultural boundaries by displaying masks as art objects and they do not have the same significance as the more sacred traditional ones. But the goal with the plastic container masks is to show the pervasive reach and impact of western- generated consumer culture on African countries.

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