Friday 16 September 2011

Romuald Hazoume

The King’s Mouth… Cans of second slavery
(First published Jan 14-20, 2007)

The installation The King's Mouth by Ramuald
IN conventional economy across the world, crude oil and its finished product, premium spirit otherwise known as petrol have caused as much development as destruction.
From Middle East to Central America and Africa, it’s been different tales for diferent folks.
While Nigeria, one of the leading oil producing nations in the world keeps counting its deaths in several hundreds as a result of tragic incidents whenever the commodity is scarce, neigbouring Benin Republic, a non-oil producing nation, has a similar story to tell. Quite a paradox, isn't it?
   Installation, The King’s Mouth, by a Beninois artist, Romuald Hazoume explains how petrol has enslaved a people beyond imagination.
The artist’s presentation held recently at the Musee de quai Branly, Germany, was of the dual media` of installation and audio visual. And the leading character here was the jerrycan, a notorious player in fuel crisis-ridden economy such as Nigeria and Benin Republic.
Out of an assemblage of 304 jerrycans, Hazoume created a vessel-like image which featured two masks. The masks, he says, have interpretation that links the obnoxious slave trade of the 16th to 19th century and fuel trafficking.

Satirical depiction of the king's mouth with plastic gallon or jerrycan
"There is not a single street in Benin where you won’t find a jerrycan of the same kind that I use; the petrol trafficking cans. Petrol tafficking goes on every where in Porto-Novo,"  he says.
  The ‘slaves’ in 21 st century Benin, according to the artist, are both the traffickers and the jerrycan. If in Nigeria, peasant traffickers meet their death instantly through inferno from the rage of burst fuel pipes, in Benin Republic, death from petrol may be slowly claiming its victims, even at infants. Women, he explains, carry jerrycan of petrol with their babies on their backs "knowing that the babies breathe in petrol fumes on a daily basis."
  The vessel, an inspiration from a 19th century engraving, which unveiled the cross section of a slave trader and the way in which slaves were arranged in the holds, is symbolic, Hazoume notes. The two masks in the artist’s installation, he says, represent two personalities  of the slave trade period: the then king of Dahomey, now Benin Republic and the governor of Ouidah, a place said to be one of West Africa’s largest slaving ports.
  "The pair symbolises the complicity of Westerners and some Africans in the development of the slave trade," the artist recalls the relationship that existed between the royal heads and the slave masters.
  To get the message faster to his European audience on the jerrycan and petrol syndrom, a seven minute film, he says was presented alongside the installation. The film showed how jerrycans are carried across the river, and the camped space and over crowding during their journey, how the jerrycans are patched for leakages, and law enforcement officers have to be avoided. He narrates the content of the film, adding that the whole of life centres on these makeshift artifacts, which becomes the slaves of today.
And how did this theme germinated?

Romuald Hazoume

"Being an artist means answering questions, and my answers no longer satisfied me. I had to go back the source, for example; to understand why my Yoruba ancestors made masks. I had to see what was beyond. I immersed myself in the fa."  The artist defends his refuge in the ifa (he pronounces it fa, with silent i), divinity "because it is the divine geometry which gives knowledge of the future and extends from South western Nigeria to South western Ghana."
  Born in 1962, Hazoume has had eight group and six solo exhibitions in Africa, Europe, Asia and America, including the popular all Afican artists show series, African Remix held in London, U.K and Dusseldorf, Germany between 2004 and 2006.

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