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Biography of Ousmane SOW

Senegal > Arts : Ousmane SOW

Ousmane SOW Ousmane SOW
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Born on 10/10/1935 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

Ousmane Sow (Born October 10, 1935- died Decembre 1,2016) was a Senegalese sculptor.

Ousmane Sow was born in Dakar in 1935. His father, from Dakar, was thirty years older than his mother, who was from Saint-Louis. He grew up in Reubeuss, one of the liveliest areas of Dakar, where he received a very strict education and was given responsibilities at a very early age by his father. From his father he inherited discipline, a sense of duty, disdain for honours and a free spirit. When his father died, despite his great attachment to his mother, he decided to leave for Paris without a penny in his pocket. He was put up in police stations and discovered the gentler side of a France that was still a welcoming place. While working at various odd jobs, and having given up his courses at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, he obtained a diploma in physiotherapy.
Although he had been sculpting since childhood, it was not till he was fifty that Ousmane Sow made sculpture his full-time profession. However his previous experience as physiotherapist can be seen in the magnificent sense of anatomy evident in his work. In the evenings throughout all those years, he would transform his consulting room and his successive apartments into sculpture studios. He would then destroy or leave behind the works he created.
Up to the time of his first exhibition, which was organized by the French Cultural Center in Dakar in 1987, nothing was known of his work, apart from an excerpt from an animated film, which portrayed small sculptures. Only six years after this first exhibition in Dakar, he exhibited his work at Dokumenta in Kassel, Germany. In 1995, the Seated Nouba and Standing Nouba closed the exhibition organized in Venice at the Palazzo Grassi for the Centenary of the Biennale.
In 1984, inspired by Leni Riefenstahl's photographs of the Noubas of Southern Sudan, he began to work on the wrestlers of this ethnic group and produced his first series of sculptures, The Nouba. In 1988, he created The Masai, in 1991 The Zulus, and in 1993 The Peulh.
In 1991 he bought the land on which to build his house, designed from his imagination. The walls and tiles are completely covered with his own sculpting media and the house symbolises the Sphinx, foreshadowing his future series of sculptures entitled The Egyptians.

In the courtyard of this house, he produced The Battle of Little Big Horn, a series of thirty-five pieces. The pieces were first exhibited in Dakar in January of 1999 and served as a preview to the Paris exhibition on the Pont des Arts, which featured all his series of sculptures and attracted over three millions visitors.

In 2001, he commissioned the Courbertin and Susse Foundries to produce three bronzes from his originals: The Dancer with Short Hair (Nouba series), The Standing Wrestler (Nouba series) and Mother and Child (Masai series). The three pieces were exhibited in the Spring of 2001 at the Dapper Museum in Paris.
Since then, « The Thrower » (Zulu series) and « Sitting Bull at prayer » (Little Big Horn series) have been produced.
In the same year, he carried out a commission for the International Olympic Commitee, « The runner at the start line ».
During the summer of 2002, at the request of « Medecins du Monde », he created a sculpture of Victor Hugo for the « Rejection of poverty and exclusion day ».
The bronze of this sculpture was commissioned by the city of Besançon, Victor Hugo ‘s native city. It was erected on October 17, 2003, in the Place des Droits de l’Homme to mark « Rejection of poverty and exclusion day » in the presence of Medecins du Monde.
During 2003, the Whitney Museum in New York also presented part of the Little Big Horn Series as part of an exhibition entitled « The american effect ».

Ousmane Sow has always sculpted without a model. He creates his own medium. In a form of subtle alchemy, he allows a number of ingredients to macerate over the years. For him this medium is a work in itself, giving him almost as much pleasure as creating the sculpture itself. He applies this material onto a framework of metal, straw and jute, allowing Nature and the medium their own freedom thus opening of the door to the unforeseen. This approach is inherently artistic, but also African.
Today his life and his work are deeply anchored in his country. He cannot imagine himself sculpting anywhere other than Senegal. Although he lived for more than twenty years in France, nothing and nobody could ever entice him to leave his native African soil.`

Last update : 12/01/2016

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