Romuald Hazoumè, Nest Violeta, 2009
Romuald Hazoumè began fabricating masks from recycled waste in Benin, in western Africa, in the mid 1980s. These masks often feature plastic jerry cans, or bidons – used to smuggle petrol on the back of bikes from Nigeria to Benin – as well as discarded household appliances and fabric. Hazoumè’s ‘recycling’ refers to historical inequities in exchange involving Africa, Europe and the Americas – whether of slave labour, or of masks and other sculptural objects. It also highlights the contemporary phenomenon of industrialised countries paying African nations to take their waste; structured inequalities continue to result in economic enslavement and exploitation. Hazoumè creates a subversive feedback loop within this system by sending the waste back as sculptures to be hung in galleries. Through masks – the beloved object of the twentieth-century European artistic avant-gardes – Hazoumè points to the influence of African aesthetic traditions on the development of Modernism in Europe.