During my last stay in Dakar, I had the chance to visit the house of Ousmane Sow, the famous sculptor who died on December 1st, 2016.
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 three 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.
The guided tour done by her daughter Marina Sow and the discovery of the place where he lived and worked gives another dimension to this great artist and his gigantic sculptures.
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 fifty 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 eleven horses and twenty-four characters.
In the 2000s, he would also create more than eighty 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 twenty places, including the Whitney Museum in New York.
The Sphinx, house born of his imagination, prefiguration of his series on the Egyptians.
Ousmane Sow built his house with his hands, like a sculpture: a real work of art with its tiling in ocher, brown and red tones, but also having the walls covered with the materials he used for his sculptures.
The visit begins with a portrait of Ousmane Sow, a handsome man with a radiant smile that illuminates the place.
The work from the African African series are exhibited in every room. For incomplete series, the photos of the missing statues are presented, thus giving an overall view of the series.
The series that particularly impressed and touched me is the “great men”one in tribute to the great men who have marked his life. We discover the sculptures of his father, Victor Hugo, General de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela and The Man and the Child. Behind these majestic works, we can perceive the themes that were to be important to this man, such as heroism and courage, freedom and compassion.
More personal archives and memories are also presented in a room (his agenda, very original in the form of circles,some private photos of Henri Cartier-Bresson, his favorite bike, his academician sword …). The pommel of this sword, which he made himself for his admission to the Academy of Fine Arts in 2003, represents a jumping Nouba.
The workshop in which he worked the last years of his life is can be seen on the top floor of the house.
I highly recommend you visit this wonderful house museum, a true place of transmission and sharing, thanks to the remarkable work done by the family of the sculptor.