Dramatic artwork inspired by slave ship 'Brookes' is unveiled at British Museum

  • Published 21 March 2007

A £30,000 grant from The Art Fund has enabled the British Museum to acquire a dramatic multi-media art installation, La Bouche du Roi, by Benin-based artist Romuald Hazoum. The work was acquired for £100,000.

La Bouche du Roi was inspired by the famous late 18th-century print of the Liverpool slave ship the ‘Brookes’, which showed how enslaved Africans would have been positioned inside the hull of the ship. 200 years after the Bill outlawing the Atlantic Slave Trade was passed by parliament, Hazoumé’s ‘The Mouth of the King’ challenges us to re-consider the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade and reflect on the legacy of slavery on today’s world.

For the installation Hazoumé has created 304 ‘masks’ from black plastic petrol cans. The masks, which represent enslaved peoples, are arranged along similar lines to the slaves in the ‘Brookes’ print. Each mask bears a symbol, name or object that refers to an African god to whom the enslaved peoples might have prayed to. Liquor bottles, tobacco, spices beads and shells – all used to barter for slaves – are also included.

Two overlapping soundtracks play continuously – one a litany of slave names and the other a series of lamentations. The aroma of caraway, clove and tobacco can be smelt in the space around the work, blending disturbingly with the terrible smells of a slave ship including sweat, urine and faeces.

Following its display at the British Museum La Bouche du Roi will tour a number of UK cities, some of which were centres of the slave trade including Hull, Liverpool, Bristol, Newcastle and the Horniman Museum in London.

La Bouche du Roi is part of the ‘Atlantic Trade and Identity’ season which includes a series of special exhibitions and displays at the British Museum. Click here to find out more

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