Lime interview - Exhibitions
Adelaid Damoah’s work can be found here
Born in 1962 in Benin, West Africa, Romuald Hazoumè, is considered one of Africa's leading visual artists.
A winner of the prestigious 2007 Arnold-Bode-Prize at Documenta 12 in Germany, Hazoumè first came to the attention of the wider art world in 1992, when his politically astute works were first exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery's “Out of Africa” show. Already a full time artist by then, Hazoumè's works have since been shown in major museums and galleries all over the world and has works in the collections of the likes of David Bowie and Iman.
Romuald Hazoumè was kind enough to take time out from hanging work at another show to discuss his thoughts and feelings about art, his career and success in the run up to his highly anticipated London show.
I read that you came to prominence in 1992 when you did the Saatchi Masks show. Could you tell me what lead you to that point?
When I was in my last year at school they lost my paper for the final exam. I was very angry and I left school. For four years after that, I just made art. I asked people to show what I was doing. They refused me many times, so it was about seven years before I had my first show. I was very surprised that André Mernier came and bought my work. André Mernier was in Africa because he and Jean Picote, the owner of one of the most prominent collections of African art in the world, were trying to find artists for an exhibition in Paris. That is how I ended up at the Saatchi show. David Bowie was there, saw my work and bought some later on. I now travel around the world and make exhibitions.
You said that David Bowie was at that show. How did that show then change your career, your life?
My career is changed by me. I met David Bowie in 1995 in Johannesburg. It was very good for me because he bought two pieces of mine for Iman. It was a funny story because usually, you can not talk directly to someone like David Bowie! I played with that so that he needed to talk to me! He talked to me directly and said, “OK, lets talk, I will buy!” After that, we spoke for about one hour. It was crazy! I love his music and I told him, you know, I love your music and I never have a discount when I buy your music! I don't want to put a discount on my work. He just said, “Forget it, I don't want a discount, I will buy immediately.” He paid me the same week. He did not get the piece until eight months after. I asked him why he trusted me. He said, “Because I know you and I know there will be no problem.” That was the story behind David Bowie and this story helped me a lot because when somebody who is well known buys your pieces, it is good for you. It makes publicity.
What does success in the art world mean to you?
As an African, we do not have to be like European people. The art scene is a big group for artists. They need you inside this group if you can show something very new, original or clever. But what we have to show today is our culture. Because we have something we call art too! It is not only Western people who have that. We have very interesting, strong pieces and we need to show them. When I become very well know, I think it will be because I have something to say.
So it seems that you closely identify your success as an artist with your identity as an African.
What is your biggest success to date?
When I won the Documenta prize, I was so happy that I cried. I cried because it was so hard to get there. I just had to thank so many people because this was a very well known prize. When I got another prize, again, I said thank you. It pushed me to get better.
Would you say that the Documenta prize was your biggest achievement?
What would you say was the hardest set back that you have had and how did you overcome it?
Well, every well known person has somebody behind him. If it is a man, it may be a wife that he has behind him who helps him to be well known and helps with other things so that he can work. What I regret the most is the loss of my first wife. She helped me to be a success because she took care of our children so that I could work peacefully and travel a lot. However, one day, ten years ago, she just died suddenly. It happened so quick. Within five minutes, I lost my wife. We were at a party and she had an aneurysm. I was left with two small children.
It must have been difficult. I am so sorry to hear about that...
What is your biggest aspiration going forward for your work?
It is not about art because one of my dreams has been made reality in Benin. It was the possibility to show our work in Benin and we achieved that with a new foundation which has been working for the past seven years. That was my dream, to have a museum where we could put on exhibitions. So today, my big dream is not really about art, it is about how we can get leaders in Africa to be more responsible. How can we get leaders in Africa to be less corrupt and more respectable? That is my dream and it is a big dream.
It is a big dream,
I don't want to be a politician because I hate that because I don't know how to lie!
Your work could somehow contribute to your dream becoming a reality.
Yes! That is what I try to do.
What advice would you give to an up and coming artist wishing to follow in your footsteps?
The first thing is never follow money, just be yourself. Never think that what people are doing in Western art is what you need to do. Have something to say, but know that it will be very very difficult.
And to accept that but still keep going.
Info: The exhibition, entitled Cargoland opens on the 28th June and runs through to the 11th August at the October Gallery in London.
For more on this interview, please visit Art Success at www.adelaidedamoah.com
Ruud van Empel