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"Ousmane Sow: Monumental Sculpture in Celebration of the IV Games of La Francophonie"
2001-06-24 until 2001-08-19
National Gallery of Canada
Ottawa, ON, CA

In celebration of the IV Games of La Francophonie, the National Gallery of Canada provides the opportunity for the public to experience for free during the summer the monumental sculptures of internationally acclaimed Senegalese artist Ousmane Sow from 24 June to 19 August. Under the careful supervision of the artist himself, the twenty-three larger-than-life-size figures (about 2.2 metres high on average) that tell the stories of three African peoples: Nouba fighters, Masai warriors and Peulh herders, were installed on the West Esplanade of the National Gallery of Canada. This exhibition marks Sow’s debut in North America, following a successful showing in 1999 at the Pont des Arts in Paris, where his works attracted over three million visitors.

Ousmane Sow was born in Dakar in 1935. On the death of his father, he left, almost penniless, for Paris. He dreamed of art, but had to study physical therapy. Sow lived in Paris for more than twenty years, always in contact with the works of the great sculptors, such as Giacometti, that he loved so much. He practised his profession by day and sculpted by night: After work and on Sundays I sculpted. Eventually, I realized that even when I wasn’t doing it, I was thinking about it. At the age of fifty, Sow decided to dedicate himself exclusively to sculpture, and he returned to Senegal to live.

In 1984, Ousmane Sow began to work on his first major pieces: the Nouba. In this first series, the qualities that would characterize his later work became evident: monumentality, predominance of the human figure, exaggerated movement, simplicity of decorative detail and roughness of surfaces. His technique involved steel reinforced structures, stuffed with plastic straws, covered with strips and small squares of jute and finished with a mysterious substance — a substance weathered by years spent in the garden of the sculptor, who guards its secret well. In 1989, the sculptor turned his attention to the soul of the Masai. Then came the Zulu series, in 1990, and three years later, the group of Peulh, cattle herders with fine features and bronze skin, shown at their daily lives. Sow looks for the inner space from where all movement comes; in this way, like Picasso, he has the courage to destroy what he considers inwardly lifeless, without vulnerability. For him, it is the inner being that gives life to the muscles; that is why his groups of sculptures are so powerful and so devoid of unnecessary commentary. In 1998, his thought turned from Africa and traveled to the Sioux and the Cheyenne and their great victory at the battle of Little Big Horn. That series of 35 pieces tells the story, in Sow’s inimitable manner, of the last Indian victory.

Four years after its creation, the Nouba series was shown at the French Cultural Centre in Dakar. Six years later, Sow appeared on the international scene, notably at the Documenta in Kassel, Germany. In 1999, a retrospective of 68 of his sculptures was organized by the Ponts des Arts in Paris, which was an immediate success.

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