On 11 December 2013, Senegalese artist and sculptor Ousmane Sow was admitted to France’s Academy of Fine Arts (the Académie des Beaux-Arts) during a ceremony held at Paris presidential Élysée Palace. He is the first African to enter the Academy.
Sow, 78, dedicated his honor to “all of Africa, its diaspora and to Nelson Mandela.” He sculpted the late Mandela earlier this year as part of his ongoing series Great Men, portraying him with an outstretched hand “to keep corrupt African heads of state at bay”, as Sow explained to AFP in June 2013. A minute’s silence was observed for Mandela at the ceremony. The ceremony was presided over by French President François Hollande.
He gained international recognition when he exhibited a larger-than-life sculpture of two men wrestling on the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris in 1999. He uses a mixture of clay, rubber and an all-weather substance to produce his unmistakable works.
Sow’s work, Toussaint Louverture et la vieille esclave (Toussaint Louverture and the elderly slave) is on permanent display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington D.C. in the exhibition African Mosaic: Selections from the Permanent Collection.