Romuald Hazoumè (born in 1962, Porto Novo, Benin), who is of Yoruba origin, grew up in a Catholic family, but remained in contact with the Vodun society of his forbears; this dual cultural heritage finds expression in both his masks and installations. In the mid-1980s, he began an extended series of works made from discarded plastic containers, and in particular from gasoline canisters. After slight modifications, these objects became masks which subtly reveal Hazoumè’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.”
Hazoumè’s masks conform more to the recovery of their materials than to Yoruba traditions; however, there are also important links with this heritage. He has said about his masks that he sees them “exiting” or “departing.” “Exiting” the masks, explains the Mali scholar Youssouf Tata Cissé, means that they “recapitulate all the stages of creation.” For example, one of the most important masks in Bambara rituals is the “Whirlwind” mask. It stands for the primordial whirlwind that governed the emergence of life. Hazoumé’s Zanzibrrrrace (2003) suggests a parallel reading and illustrates how the artist draws on the vocabulary of the initiated to give character to his creations. What distinguishes Hazoumè’s assemblages is that they are also specifically tied to his vision of society and global problems. Unlike the traditional masks which tended to strip the wearer of his personality, Hazoumè’s expose the wearer’s true nature. Indeed, his masks can be understood as a modern reinterpretation of the phenomena of trances, revealing without reserve the madness of current events. Hazoumè has extended these themes in his most recent works, monumental installations which address the history of slavery and the present practices of the black market.