Welcome to one of Africa's avant-garde artists, Romuald Hazoume, from the Republic of Benin, whose current solo exhibition is turning heads at the October Gallery in London. Juliet Highet has been there to see it.
IN MANY WAYS, SLAVERY HAS NEVER ended--many people live in the same kind of conditions, bound to work their whole lives for rich bosses, who use them without regard for their humanity, and who then throw them away like refuse, says Romuald Hazoume.
The whole thrust of his work is to show how historical patterns of exploitation and unequal trade are repeated today in continued greed, poverty--and enslavement. With his installations of commonplace objects like petrol cans and panoramic photographs of the markets that contain them, he alerts us to their social history and their resonance with the political and historical realities of today.
"Made in Porto Novo" is the title of Hazoume's current solo exhibition in London at the October Gallery. The Gallery represents artists from around the globe, who epitomise the trans-cultural avant-garde. Some of the most groundbreaking artists of our time, mostly from the developing world, have found a platform there, from which Hazoume has sprung to international acclaim.
So what has been Made in Porto Novo? Hazoume's studio in the capital of Benin has launched new takes on his masks and installations developed from plastic petrol cans, and other media embodying his socio-political message.
Photographs show life in Benin today, and a series of new canvases focus on symbols of Ifa, an ancient Yoruba system of divination. Hazoume declares that these evocations of his ancestry nourish the roots of all his artwork, an elemental thread drawing together the diversity of his media into a unified entity.
Born in 1962, Hazoume became a full-time artist in the early 1980s and has continued to live and work in his home country. Winning a series of prestigious international prizes and commissions, as well as having many successful solo and group exhibitions, he has become one of the foremost contemporary African artists of his generation.
He first attracted the critical attention of the global art world in 1992 in the exhibition "Out of Africa" at London's Saatchi Gallery, where his jerry-can "masks" subtly critiqued the Western reverence for "exotic" traditional African masks.
Another highly significant exhibition in 2005, again at the October Gallery, was titled ARTicle 14 and premiered Hazoume's...