Xeni on the road in West Africa: Beninese Artist Romuald Hazoumé

Beninese artist Romuald Hazoume

While I was in Benin over the last couple of weeks, a local BB reader pointed me to some interesting contemporary artists from this region. Probably the most well-known of these, internationally, is a man named Romuald Hazoumé who transforms salvaged materials into symbols of spiritual power.

Hazoumé has residences in the capital city of Cotonou, and in nearby Porto Novo near the Nigerian border. He is of Yoruba ancestry (which means his grand-folks were from Nigeria, I presume), and grew up in a Catholic family, but like many Beninois, also lives in touch with his voudun roots.

Starting in the mid-1980s, Hazoumé began creating works made from a locally ubiquitous type of plastic container -- I've heard them referred to as "jerry cans?" Basically, you see them everywhere in Benin, used and reused and reused to store everything from palm oil to water to gasoline.

Above, images of his mask mods, using these discarded source materials. The one I've selected there is called "Walkman." Snip from his bio:

After slight modifications, these objects became masks which subtly reveal Hazoumé's critical vision of political systems. He has said of his work: “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.”

Here's his bio, and Here's a gallery of some of the "trash masks" and some of his installation work. Below, a work by Hazoumé's from a large show in 2007 at the Victoria and Albert museum in London, borrowed from that_james' Flickr stream. The piece is called "Dan-Ayido-Houedo/Arc-En-Ciel, Symbole De Perpètuitè." (thanks, Hugo!)