The monumental works depicting the battle of Little Big Horn, exhibited on the Pont des Arts in Paris in 1999, had made the Senegalese artist famous. The installation has just joined the fortress in the Hautes-Alpes for at least ten years.
Body to body of muscular warriors, pileup of horses. One believes to hear the noises and the fury of the fight. Under the impressive curvilinear wooden frame of the former Rochambeau barracks, at Fort Mont-Dauphin (Hautes-Alpes), the battle of Little Big Horn is repeated, opposing, in 1876, a coalition of Cheyennes, Sioux and Arapaho to the soldiers of General Custer’s regiment.
In thirty-five monumental sculptures, visible from 6 July, the Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow (1935-2016) celebrates the brilliant victory of the fragile against the powerful. Deposited in this fortified village for a period of ten years renewable by his widow, the director Béatrice Soulé, this epic installation is well known to Parisians who discovered it amazed, one day in March 1999, on the Pont des Arts.
The exhibition has remained on record with record attendance – at least 3 million visitors in three months. “An unexpected success,” remembers art critic Emmanuel Daydé, then deputy mayor for cultural affairs. For the former physiotherapist born in 1935 in Dakar, who later became an artist, it is the consecration. But also, surprisingly, a swan song.
At the moment when Ousmane Sow gained international fame, the world of art turned its back on him. Although he was the first African artist recognized in France, none of his successors, to whom he had paved the way, claimed it.
Mayor’s daughter supports his cause
It all started well. In 1993, the Senegalese sculptor, who two years earlier had covered Revue noire – a quarterly that revealed many African talents – was invited to the major five-year exhibition at Documenta de Cassel in Germany. In 1995, here he is at the Venice Biennale, which is to contemporary art what the Cannes Film Festival is to cinema. The self-taught dreams of an event in Paris.
Chance made him meet Hélène Tiberi, daughter of the mayor of the time, Jean Tiberi. Who supports his cause at the Town Hall. The location is easy: it will be the Pont des Arts, between the Louvre and the Academy of Fine Arts. It will take diplomatic treasures to convince these two institutions, which did not look favourably on the proximity of massive silhouettes imagined by an African artist.
Archives «Monde»: Ousmane Sow questions Bordeaux and politics
The nearby National School of Fine Arts, where the figurative is then taboo, also pinches the nose. Money is missing. The Havas group had initially promised to contribute to the addition of 5 million francs (the equivalent of 1 million euros today), but its new CEO, Jean-Marie Messier, withdrew. Béatrice Soulé moves heaven and earth, finds sponsors and has personally indebted herself to 1 million francs. To read more here
Source : Le Monde