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La Bouche du Roi

The Horniman Museum is hosting La Bouche du Roi, a profound and thought-provoking contemporary work by Beninese artist Romuald Hazoumé on human greed and exploitation: the Atlantic Slave Trade of the past and the different forms of oppression that continue today.

La Bouche du Roi will complement other contemporary African art on display at the Horniman by such renowned artists as Osi Audu, Sunday Jack Akpan, and Taslim Martin.

About the artwork

The structure of La Bouche du Roi is based on a famous late-18th century print of the Liverpool slave ship the Brookes; it is a powerful memorial to the horrors of the Atlantic Slave Trade and a reminder of its terrible legacy. The work will be on show from 5 December 2008 – 1 March 2009 in the last stages of its national tour funded by the Arts Council England, as part of the British Museum’s Partnership UK programme, with additional support from the Dorset Foundation.

Literally translated as ‘The Mouth of the King’, La Bouche du Roi is a place in Benin from where enslaved people were transported across the Atlantic during the 17th and 18th centuries. The work’s main components are 304 ‘masks’ made from plastic petrol cans, each with an open mouth, eyes and a nose. Hazoumé uses a variety of found objects to form the body of the artwork. Haunting sounds and evocative smells emanate from the piece providing a powerful experience. The arrangement of the ‘masks’ mirrors that of the Brookes print but instead of suggesting de-humanized commodities, the empty vessels are literally given a voice through concealed microphones. Empty Liquor bottles, cowrie shells, spices and mirrors serve as examples of goods taken to Africa to exchange for slaves.

The installation includes Hazoumé’s film featuring motorcyclists who run black market petrol between Benin and Nigeria. The petrol cans they carry – expanded by fire, worked to breaking point, then discarded - act as a potent metaphor for spirits lost to the Atlantic Slave Trade, and as a powerful commentary on modern forms of economic oppression. However, La Bouche du Roi is not just a warning against enslavement, but against all kinds of human greed, exploitation and oppression, both past and present.

Artist’s Biography

Romuald Hazoumé is one of Africa’s leading visual artists and winner of the Arnold Bode prize at documenta 12, Kassel, Germany, in 2007.

He was born in 1962 in Porto Novo, the Republic of Benin, where he continues to live. His work in many different media has been shown internationally in solo and group exhibitions. He contributed to Africa Remix at the Hayward Gallery, London, as part of Africa 05.

Other exhibitions that have featured his work include:

  • ARTicle 14 at World Museum Liverpool in 2006
  • From Courage to Freedom at the October Gallery
  • Uncomfortable Truths - The Shadow of Slave trading on Contemporary Art and Design at the V&A in 2007.

La Bouche du Roi was previously installed at the Menil Collection, Houston, and the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, before being acquired by the British Museum in 2007.