Ousmane Saw, Larger Than Life
Ousmane Sow, a luminary figure of African contemporary art, died early Thursday morning in Dakar. He was 81. “He takes with him the dreams and the plans that his body, too tired, did not wish to follow,” Sow’s family told Agence France-Presse.
Born in the Senegalese capital of Dakar in 1935, Sow was one of Francophone Africa’s most prominent artists. He was known for sculpting his imposing creations without the use of a model. He spent most of his adult life between Dakar and Paris, where he first moved when he was 22.
As a young man, he found odd jobs in the French capital and sought overnight shelter at police stations and hospitals, apparently in exchange for fresh bread in the morning. He enrolled at a physiotherapy school, where he was able to indulge and develop his fascination for the human body.
Sow had already begun modelling sculptures with the use of stones on the beaches of his home country. In Paris, Sow’s work caught the eye of his teacher and one of his sculptures was even displayed in class.
In 1960, following Senegal’s independence from France, Sow returned to Dakar where he held his first exhibition.
But it was to be decades before he would gain recognition in his adopted country.
Sow finally captured the attention of Europe in 1999, when his giant sculptures of wrestlers were exhibited on the famed Pont des Arts bridge (photo below) near the Louvre Museum in Paris.
He exhibited work in France, Germany and Italy. In 2013, he moved all the work he still owned to a museum in Senegal, including “Great Men,” which featured historical figures such as Charles de Gaulle and Mandela. Sculptures of Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali and Gandhi would be included in his gallery of men who “helped me not despair of mankind,” he told AFP at the time.
Of his Mandela sculpture, Sow said that “he extends his hand to keep corrupt African heads of state at bay”.
The burly giants were sculpted from the artist’s trademark mixture of clay, rubber, straw, and coated in an all-weather coating.
In 2013, Sow became the first African artist admitted to France’s prestigious Académie des Beaux-Arts (French Academy of Fine Arts).
Elected to French Academy of Fine Arts
The sculptor was elected to the prestigious Academy – one of France’s five creative “Académies” – at a ceremony in Paris in December 2013 during which he dedicated the honour to “all of Africa, its diaspora and the great man who has just left us, Nelson Mandela”.
He also paid tribute to his late countryman, Senegalese writer Léopold Sédar Senghor, who was the first African to be elected to the Académie française (France’s academy of French language) in 1983.
At the Academy, Sow was seated in front of Jean Cardot, who praised Sow extensively during the ceremony. “You are an example of the richness and marvellous diversity of the artistic expression,” Cardot said. “What daring! What achievement!”
“You have the instinct, as old as humanity, of a sculptor,” Cardot told him.
– With l’Agence France Presse
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