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Africa | Benin
Culture - Arts

Beninese artist exposes African injustice in Europe

Romuald Hazoumé:
«How people are struggling to survive in Africa.»

© afrol News / The October Gallery
afrol News, 1 August
- Romuald Hazoumé is exhibiting a modern combination of installations, video, sounds, smells and recycled objects throughout Europe to expose African states' hypothetical "fourteenth and final" constitutional article: "Given all the rights mentioned above - you better manage by yourself." Jerry cans from Benin dominate the exhibition, which soon comes to London.

The October Gallery in London has announced its "grand finale" to its 'Africa 2005' season, presenting the Beninese artist Romuald Hazoumé and his commissioned installation "ARTicle 14 - get by as best you can". The site-specific installation of jerry cans incorporates sounds, smells and other recycled objects from Mr Hazoumé's home town Cotonou. These jerry cans are ubiquitous in Benin for carrying fuel and are often the cause of fatal explosions.

Mr Hazoumé told afrol News that ARTicle 14 is "an installation that speaks about how people are struggling to survive in Africa." The title of the art work refers to a so-called 14th article in African constitutions, which is a widespread irony in many parts of West Africa. The saying has it that "African constitutions all have a final article, which we suppose in number 14 and says, after having read all above: 'Get by as best you can'," Mr Hazoumé explains.

In his installation, the widely used and dangerous jerry cans serve as the perfect example of how poor Africans 'get by as best they can'. The installation symbolises how people get by on their own risk, how the state does not bother about its workers, about living standards or about safety for consumers. It is about Africa today, where "people are obliged to find their own way of survival," Mr Hazoumé told afrol News.

According to Sophie Dunsmure from the London gallery, ARTicle 14 can also be interpreted as "look out for yourself because no one else will", both a critical reference to state corruption, and a manifesto for resistance. "Inspired by a concern to reflect the realities faced daily by the people of Cotonou, Mr Hazoumé here continues his long-running artistic dialogue about the historical and socio-political issues affecting West African societies," she notes.

The central installation in Mr Hazoumé's exhibition takes a market vendor's cart - t

Beninse vendor's cart: «Look out for yourself because no one else will.»

© afrol News / The October Gallery
hat would once have carried Coca Cola, beer, plastic toys, jugs, footballs, brushes, razors and pans - and subverts it into a biting critique of the consumer encounter. Where once hung newly manufactured products, waiting for consumption, we now find empty shells and spent materials - the debris of capitalist exchange and a metaphor for the vacuity of the material world, a wake-up call for us all.

The exchange of commodities has for centuries defined the point of contact between Africa and Europe and thus is given great importance at the London exhibition. The beginnings of an African market for European manufactured goods stem back to the early years of the Atlantic 'triangular trade', when guns, alcohol and textiles were touted along the West African coast by Europeans seeking to acquire slaves.

Many argue that this uneven trade heralded the roots of an unequal system of exchange that continues to this day. Mr Hazoumé alerts us to the history of the objects that surround us, and reassigns them their place within political and social realities.

Romuald Hazoumé was born in 1962 in Porto-Novo in Benin, where he now lives and works. After studying craftsmanship at secondary school, he dedicated himself to sculpture and painting. In the mid 1980s, he began sculptural experiments with plastic jerry cans.

The series of works that resulted received widespread acclaim, and have featured in numerous international exhibitions, from the Saatchi Gallery's 'Out of Africa' to, most recently, the Menil Collection in Texas and his participation in the 'Africa Remix' tour, taking him to famous galleries in Düsseldorf, London, Paris and Tokyo.

Mr Hazoumé's ARTicle 14 exhibition at the London October Gallery is to be inaugurated on 22 September and runs until 29 October. According to Mr Dunsmure, this will be the artist's first-ever solo show in the United Kingdom.

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