1935 - 2016
“When the Nuba burst onto the scene in the mid-80s, Ousmane Sow put the soul back into sculpture and Africa into the heart of Europe. These words from Emmanuel Daydé, co-curator with Béatrice Soulé of the Ousmane Sow exhibition on the Pont des Arts, say it all.
His career as an artist was actually both short and meteoric. However, the dazzling artistic maturity evidenced in the works that he only agreed to exhibit for the first time at the age of fifty.- the Nuba. -undoubtedly owes much to his past as an anonymous and secret sculptor, who destroyed his every trace. They were immediately acclaimed and today they are emblematic of his work. Shown in 1987 at the Centre Culturel Français in Dakar, the Sitting Nuba and the Standing Nuba were then exhibited in 1992 at the Documenta de Kassel and, in 1995, at the Venice Biennale.
They were followed by his three African series : The Masai, the Zulu and the Fulani.
It was not till ten years later that Ousmane Sow began to create the Little Nuba series, considering that he had not yet completed the 1984 Nuba series and wishing to add more themes.
Mostly, the artist sculpts men in action, thus making struggle the very metaphor and the location of his work.
Determined to represent human kind, he works in series and focusses on the tribes of Africa and then of America. He draws inspiration equally from photography, the cinema, history and ethnology.
In 1999, on the Pont des Arts in Paris, between the Louvre and the Académie, the African series, together with The Battle of the Little Big Horn, a recent creation, stood in all its glory. A major step in the recognition of his work, but also a proud moment for Africa, the country foremost in his mind when he accepted his induction into the Academy.
How could Ousmane Sow have imagined that, fourteen years later, he would be crossing Quai de Conti to make his entrance into the Académie des Beaux-Arts ? And he would be the first Black to join that institution, the man who made his first sculptures in the Rebeuss primary school and whose first work was a tiny sailor carved in chalk and displayed on the school cupboard. From that moment, he never stopped sculpting, while, as an adult, practicing his profession as a physiotherapist and, at night or between patients, turning his various offices into a sculptor’s studio. And making animation films there with a hand-cranked Pathé camera using tiny animated sculptures.
Until his death he remained obsessed by animated sculptures and he worked on them with a passion until the end, always focusing on the same face : that of the Mad Emperor.
For his induction into the Académie des Beaux-Arts, fashion designer Azedine Alaïa presented him his own unique costume and Ousmane Sow himself created the sculpture for the pommel of his sword : the leap into the void, as a testimony to the day he decided to end his career as a physiotherapist to devote himself entirely to sculpture.
Previously, he had sculpted the academician’s word pommel for Jean-Christophe Rufin, representing Colombe, the emblematic character of his novel Rouge Brésil.
In the meantime, Ousmane Sow experimented with bronze casting, which become a passion and to which he discovered his own personal note with some highly colorful patinas. And so
more than sixty bronzes, both large and small, saw the light of day.
Five large bronzes are displayed in French cities : Besancon, Versailles, Angers, La Rochelle, and soon in Paris (Victor Hugo, General de Gaulle, Man and Child, Standing Warrior, Toussaint Couverture and hand to hand Wrestlers). Another (The Immigrant) is in Geneva and another in Rabat outside the Mohamed VI Museum (The Standing Warrior). The majority of these works form part of the series of great men entitled Thanks, which also includes Nelson Mandela and the artist’s own father, Moctar Sow.
Another, older effigy of Toussaint Louverture was acquired by the Museum of African Art at the prestigious Smithsonian Institution in Washington.