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Made in Porto-Novo - October Gallery

Exhibition preview

ROMUALD Hazoumé’s sensational solo show, Made in Porto-Novo, is on display at the October Gallery from October 15 to November 28, 2009.

Romuald Hazoumé, winner of the prestigious Arnold Bode prize at documenta 12 in 2007, was born in 1962 in Porto-Novo in the Republic of Benin. His work first came to prominence in the UK 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; and the V&A Museum, London.

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 contemporary African artists.

Made in Porto Novo presents 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’s 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 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-hand assertion that demands one at least pay some series 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 feting 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.

Admission: Free.

Times: Tuesday to Saturday from 12.30pm to 5.30pm.

October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AL

Tel: 020 7242 7367