I discovered his colossal works in 1999 when it was exhibited on the Pont des Arts in Paris. The African series and the “Little Big Horn Battle” series were on show, attracting almost 3 million visitors.
At that time I have been impressed by these monumental statues but knowing neither the meaning nor the history of the works, I had not perceived their power.
"Little Bighorn" at Mont Dauphin in France...
The Little Bighorn series consists of 24 characters and 11 horses in real or augmented size. The work of the Senegalese sculptor illustrates the famous battle between the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians and the United States Federal Army in 1876 along the Little Bighorn River.
These sculptures will be the centerpieces of an exhibition on the Mont Dauphin site (Hautes-Alpes) from July 2021.
They are real giant statues with an iron frame covered with clay and each weighing between 90 and 200kg! All the works were sculpted using a technique specific to the artist: concrete structure - melted and modeled plastic straw, then burlap coated with a material of its composition.
This exceptional exhibition, which pays tribute to the universality of Ousmane Sow's work, will be presented for a period of 10 years. The site of the Fort de Mont-Dauphin, a stronghold founded in the 17th century by the military architect Vauban, is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
(Exposition réalisée avec le soutien d’Eiffage Sénégal, de la Fondation Crédit Agricole Alpes Provence, de CMA CGM Sénégal, de Bolloré Transport & Logistics et d'Odcvl.)
Ousmane Sow, from physiotherapist to sculptor...
Ousmane Sow was born in 1935 in Dakar. As a child, he cut figurines in blocks of limestone found on the beach. It was at the age of 21, at the death of his father from whom he inherited rigor, the sense of duty and the refusal of honors, that he left for Paris. He would perform odd jobs before graduating as a physiotherapist.
He would practice this profession until he reached 50 years old, time when his sculpture will earn him success. His training as a physiotherapist and his perfect knowledge of anatomy are clearly perceptible in his works.
Therefore, starting from 1987, with his first exhibition organized by the French Cultural Center of Dakar, he would devote himself entirely to his art. He would exhibit his famous Nuba wrestlers, an ethnic from South Sudan about which he said the following:
“I say things as they should be told … I do as all the artists. I love Rodin, Giacometti or Maillol... I exaggerate! What interests me is not the battle, it is the opposition, the hand to hand, whether real or mental… There is no logic in my work, only my sensitivity guides me. “
The following series of sculptures will follow: “Masai” in 1988, “Zulu” in 1991 and “Peulh” in 1993 but also “The Battle of Little Big Horn”, a series of 11 horses and 24 characters. In the 2000s, he would also create more than 80 bronzes.
Ousmane Sow is the first black to join the Academy of Fine Arts, a pride for his continent. His work has been exhibited in more than 20 places, including the Whitney Museum in New York.
In June 2015, a place in homage to Ousmane Sow in Paris was commemorated in the 15th arrondissement, near the street « Rue des Entrepreneurs ». A place dear to the artist, who lived there when he was in France.
Two years ago, I had the chance to visit the house of Ousmane Sow. Check the article I wrote about it HERE.