The Menil Collection, Jan 29 – Jun 12, 2005
The King’s mouth pays homage to the fate suffered by victims of the slave trade, and also evokes the modern slave trade that the petrol traffickers along the border between Benin and Nigeria are engaged in. By presenting the fascinating artwork by Romuald Hazoumé, born in 1962 in Porto Novo (Republic of Benin), the musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac reminds us of the important role it gives to contemporary art, alongside its older collections. Indeed, it seeks to give a voice to non-European artists who challenge their own cultural contradictions and the ways in which they are perceived by the West.
This installation took its inspiration from an 18th century engraving of a slave-ship. It includes over 300 masks made from petrol canisters, which symbolise the slaves. Scents and sounds fill the installation, including a litany of the slaves’ names, songs and lamentations. Trays are loaded with cowries, tobacco and glass beads, recalling the currencies that were used at the time.
This artwork was first conceived in 1997 by Romuald Hazoumé and it was presented to the Menil Collection (Houston) in 2005. It is constantly evolving and illustrates the artist’s committed stance against human suffering and social injustice. It is a plea for liberty, respect and dignity.