On the first day of spring, Paris officials unveiled a striking artwork by Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow, paying homage to the artist who died in 2016 at the age of 81.
“He was a singular person, and his art is beyond comparison,” said Jean-François Legaret, mayor of the city’s First Arrondissement (or district), where the work has been placed on a square close to the iconic Louvre museum.
|Ousmane Sow's "Le Couple de Lutteurs".|
The inauguration of the bronze sculpture, completed in 1984 and titled Couple de lutteurs (Couple of Fighters), took place on International Francophonie Day, or Journée internationale de la Francophonie, which is observed annually on March 20. It also came on the 20th anniversary of a public exhibition of Sow’s work on the Pont des Arts in Paris.
That 1999 show, with its 75 “majestic” sculptures arrayed on the famed bridge, attracted three million visitors over its course and will live on in collective memory, said Christophe Girard, Paris’ deputy mayor for culture. He stressed that Sow was an artist of both Africa and Europe, representing an international outlook, and that his work had a rightful place in Paris.
“Africa is the biggest Francophone continent. All its artists have their place in Paris, and they are truly our cousins,” he said.
A notable feature of the inauguration event, though, was the absence of Paris-based Senegalese officials or other embassy representatives from African countries. When asked about this, French participants said that they did not know the reason and that the organization had been carried out by the mayor’s office.
Marina Sow, the artist’s daughter and the president of the Association Maison Ousmane Sow in Dakar, told SWAN that her father had always been more popular in France than in his homeland.
|Ousmane Sow's artwork inaugurated in Paris.|
“Maybe this is not a politically correct thing to say, but to be completely honest, the French have always revered him more,” she said.
She and other members of Sow’s family were among those attending the inauguration, but she was not on the official roster of speakers, which was supposed to have been headed by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. The latter was unable to be present because of “security issues”, her staff said.
According to Hidalgo’s office, the city wanted to honour a “popular artist and founder of African contemporary art who lived in Paris for some 20 years”. Sow was the first African artist to be elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts – one of five “learned” académies of the Institut de France.
He had exercised different professions before devoting himself fully to art at age 50, and he wasn’t content “just to sculpt bodies in bronze and clay, but he took on the job of moulding and massaging pain to make it disappear,” according to a statement from the mayor’s office.
“With his Fighters, Sow forever celebrated Africa which fought to exist,” the statement added.
The Couple des lutteurs forms part of the artist’s Nuba series (inspired by the people of southern Sudan) and will no doubt touch everyone who sees it, said Girard, who called on people everywhere to fight to have art in their towns. - SWAN
Sow’s artwork can be seen on the Place de Valois in Paris.