Hazoumè’s art—which ranges across sculpture, photography, film, and sound—absorbs and confronts the complex realities of contemporary life in Benin and the broader ramifications of Pan-African politics. A bricoleur whose formal currency is often found in recycled materials—for example, the fifty-liter plastic bidon, or jerrycan, a local staple for the illegal purchase of cheap gasoline from Nigeria—Hazoumè uses strategies of repetition and recombination to create works of elegant potency whose effects are intensified by the wordplay of his titles.
Masks are perhaps the best-known aspect of Hazoumè’s art. In Yoruba culture, masks have long had ceremonial and symbolic importance, as the head and the face are often regarded as the locus of a person’s destiny. Highly valued by European markets, African masks became recurring motifs in the artwork of the twentieth-century European avant-gardes. Freed from ritual or sociological purpose, Hazoumè’s masks consciously adapt the signifiers of African-European exchange to contemporary realities. Composed of plastic gasoline containers and other discarded materials, the masks are freighted with subtext, bringing to mind the Beninese men and women who, unable to find legal employment, are forced to ferry contraband gasoline between Nigerian sources and their Beninese consumers in order to survive.