Remembering Ousman Sow

Remembering Ousman Sow
  • PublishedSeptember 23, 2019

Few months after losing such a talented artist, let’s review the journey of a sculptor with impressive skills.

The story of Ousmane Sow begins in Dakar on October 10, 1935. He is the sixth child of Moctar, fifty-six years old and the third of Nafi N’diaye, twenty-two years old.  From a young age, the young Ousmane begins his apprenticeship.  At age seven, he enrolled into a French school where he will tackle his first sculptures, he was also attending Koranic school. From this strict upbringing, rose a man who inherited his father’s qualities, an enlightened and generous Muslim, respecting others’ freedom of thoughts.

At ten years old, he was carving blocks of limestone found on the beach. A few years later, Ousmane graduated with a commercial certificate from a private school. The first drastic change of his life came after his father’s death. Like many Dakarois, Ousmane goes to France. It was destination Marseille first by boat.  And then Paris.

Between 1957 and 1961, he lived from small jobs in Paris. He completed his nursing studies, temporarily abandoned sculpting while hanging out with students majoring in Fine Arts. He wants to become a physiotherapist. But not only that. He wants to become the first physiotherapist of Senegal.

His knowledge in the human body acquired through his training will soon prove to be an asset. Upon his return to Senegal, the young artist resumed sculpting, even claiming the status of an artist by exhibiting a low relief at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in 1966.

Ousmane Sow returns to France some time later and worked as a physiotherapist on a freelance basis. His love for art and sculpture drives him in the evening and on the weekend to turn his office into a workshop.  There, he makes some articulated puppets, produces a small animated film. 1978 was the year of final return to Senegal. He fully commits himself to his passion, and his life is dedicated to sculptures.

His first sculptures have deteriorated with time, some have disappeared, and he has given others away. He wants to do something better, bigger. He invents his own material, a secret he does not want to divulge. The second milestone of his life happened in 1988. Past his fifties, Ousmane Sow was acknowledged by the public thanks to the series of “Nouba”.

Thanks to his creations, the Senegalese did many exhibits at home in Dakar, but also in Marseille, Paris, Geneva, New York, Tokyo and the Reunion Island.  In 1992, the documentary of Kassel, the exhibition of modern and contemporary art acknowledges him as one of the great artists. The Venice Biennale did the same in 1995.

Consecration and recognition do not change his habits. Ousmane Sow created from his home in Dakar the series “Masai”, “Zulu”, “Peul” as well as the Indians and horses of the series “Little Big Horn”.

It is in 1999 that Ousmane Sow will truly be recognized by the French public with the retrospective on the Pont des Arts in Paris.  More than three million visitors were able to contemplate the extent of his work.

In 2013, Ousmane Sow was the first black artist to enter into the Academy of Fine Arts.

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