Romuald Hazoumè fashions a monumental, predatory creature—the rainbow serpent—out of recycled jerry cans that are typically used to carry gasoline. He addresses in this and other work the exploitation of human and natural resources and how this affects communities around the world and over time, including the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade centuries ago and its economic equivalents today.
The circular image of the rainbow serpent swallowing its tail is a powerful symbol among Fon and Yoruba peoples in Benin and Nigeria, where it refers to spiritual forces and positive ideas about fertility, prosperity, and the eternal cycle of life. Rather than embodying the incandescent beauty that one typically associates with rainbows, Hazoumè’s “Rainbow Serpent” feels reptilian in a scientific way and is somewhat frightening in its visual impact. The work communicates an aggressive, terrorizing quality and a real sense of power, emphasized by its monumental size. According to the artist, “The body of my serpent has been made with dozens of masks representing all the slaves of the world in all their diverse forms.” The work suggests the vicious cycle of exploitation and suffering eternally wrought on the general populace by those in power.
Monumental, circular sculpture of a serpent swallowing its tail. The sculpture is made with a multi-part metal interior framework of interlocking metal pipes and an exterior ‘skin’ of repurposed plastic jerry cans joined together in sections with copper wire; an iron open-topped box to hold weights for counter-balance serves as the interior of the serpent’s head, which can be attached to a steel plate for stability.
Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2017-ongoing
African Cosmos: Stellar Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., June 20-December 9, 2012; Newark Museum, February 26-August 11, 2013; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, August 23-November 30, 2014; Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, Atlanta, January 31-June 21, 2015 (exhibited at NMAfA and Newark Museum)
ARS 11, KIASMA, Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland, 2011
Romuald Hazoumè: My Paradise--Made in Porto-Novo, Herbert Gerisch Stiftung, Neumünster, Germany (solo exhibition), 2010
Uncomfortable Truths: The Shadow of Slave Trading on Contemporary Art and Design, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2007
Hudson, Lynn M. 2007. "Inhuman Traffic: The Business of the Slave Trade." The Journal of American History 94 (3), Exhibition review, p. 887.
Jacobs, Caroline. 2008. "Uncomfortable Truths: The Shadow of Slave Trading on Contemporary Art & Design, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2007." African Arts 41 (2), Exhibition Review, p. 93.
Kreamer, Christine Mullen. 2012. "African Cosmos: Stellar Arts." Washington, DC: Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, in association with Monacelli Press, New York. Rainbow Serpent illustrated and discussed pp. 303-305.