Opening on 15 October at the October Gallery, London is the long anticipated show by Romuald Hazoumé, “Made in Porto-Novo”. You might recognise his name, as we featured his show “La Bouche du Roi” in Aesthetica back in 2007.
Hazoumé was born in 1962 in Porto Novo, in the Republic of Benin. Hazoumé’s work first came to prominence in the U.K. with the inclusion of his witty, tongue-in-cheek “masks” in the Saatchi Gallery’s “Out of Africa” show, in 1992. Since then his work has been widely shown in many of the major galleries and museums in Europe and beyond, including the British Museum, the Guggenheim, Bilbao, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, ICP, New York, the V&A Museum, London, etc.
The stellar trajectory of Hazoumé’s rise during these past 15 years has catapulted him into the first rank of the international artistic community, marking him out as unique amongst other African contemporary artists. “Made in Porto-Novo” will present masks, photographs, canvases and installation work selected from the artist’s studio. Although Hazoumé has lately developed his explorations over a wide range of media, there will be a welcome return of his earlier mask series with a number of new masks on display. The exhibition will also include a series of little-shown works on canvas focussing upon the iFa symbols, an ancient African knowledge passed down over many centuries within the Yoruba civilisation. These works have not, so far, been widely exhibited abroad, owing, in part, to their intrinsic complexity and in part also to their implicit involvement with the internal creative processes of the artist himself.
Hazoumé notes that these glyphic forms, which he calls ‘evocations,’ nourish the roots of all his artworks without exception – providing a common, elemental thread that draws the diversity of his oeuvre into a unified whole. There will also be further photographs from his revelatory series depicting real life in Benin today and an entirely new installation, using his signature petrol canisters, that will extend the exhibition’s reach into still further areas.
The exhibition’s title of “Made in Porto-Novo” functions as something of a wake-up call to anyone who’s never heard of the capital city of Benin as well as to anyone who remains unaware of the exceptional nature of some of the art being produced on the African continent today. It is quite typical of Hazoumé that he should be the one to announce Porto-Novo’s accession to the map of art capitals of the world in this breezily self-assured manner.
Yet, there is a muscular substance to his off-handed assertion that demands one at least pay some serious attention to it. As Jackie Wullschlager, the always perceptive Art Critic of the Financial Times, pointed out when reviewing 2007’s documenta 12, the balance of power in the art world is at present shifting dramatically away from the tired old monopoly of western cultural hegemonism with its serial fêting of the latest and greatest white wunderkind. Wullschlager rightly described documenta 12 as “the most exciting thrilling art show in the world, because it is genuinely of the world rather than a Euro-American take on global culture.”
The pendulum has indeed begun to swing in the other direction – and the haunting title of the FT piece, “We know our time is up,” bears prescient witness to the changes occurring. In going on to collect the prestigious Arnold Bode Prize at documenta 12 for his outstanding installation, “Dream,” Hazoumé was not only elevating a piece by an African artist to the highest summit of achievement in the contemporary western canon he was also laying down a marker for artists from across the entire continent of Africa.
So, if we can accept that some of the pent-up energy and creative vigour of the planet might just be running riot in places other than the centres of Paris, New York or Berlin, then maybe we can look forward to welcoming to London artwork that takes enormous delight in proudly proclaiming its provenance as – Made in Porto-Novo.
Romuald Hazoumé “Made in Porto-Novo” at the October Gallery
15 October to 28 November 2009
24 Old Gloucester Street
London WC1N 3AL
Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 12.30 – 5.30pm
Free Entry, www.octobergallery.co.uk
Nearest Tubes: Holborn/ Russell Square
Buses: 19, 25, 38, 55, 168 and 188
Romuald Hazoumé, Liberté, 2009, Found Objects, 31 x 51 x 25 cm, photo by Jonathan Greet, Image courtesy of October Gallery, London