Romuald Hazoumé | Republic of Benin b.1962 | Liberté 2009 | Plastic, porcupine quills and fabric | 50 x 43 x 25cm | Purchased 2010 with a special allocation from the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Romuald Hazoume 2009 /ADAGP. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2010
Romuald Hazoumé's work is humorous, playful and political. He produces sculpture, painting and photography but is best known for his 'masks' — an ongoing series commenced in the mid 1980s, in which he modifies discarded plastic jerry cans and other materials to take on the appearance of faces. As the artist's photographs attest, these jerry cans are ubiquitous in Benin: they are often used to carry rice to the Nigerian border, which is then traded for black-market petrol.
In an historical context, Hazoumé's masks can be understood in relation to traditional Yoruba masks traditionally made for religious purposes. Following European contact, masks became a sought-after commodity and were highly valued by collectors in Europe. In the early twentieth century, they were recognised as having had a major influence on the formal innovations made by the European avant-garde.
Highly attuned to the European fascination with African masks, Hazoumé's works are emblematic of what Gerard A Houghton has described as the artist's 'drolly subversive take on the ongoing inequalities of exchange between contemporary Africa and the Western world'.1