The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art debuted its latest collection of works featuring famed Senegalese artist, Ousame Sow.
By Beverly Kirk
A powerful and celebrated work of art is the centerpiece of a new exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Toussaint Louverture et la viellie esclave (Toussaint Louverture and the elderly slave) is the masterpiece of famed Senegalese artist Ousmane Sow, and it anchors “African Mosaic: Celebrating a Decade of Collecting”, which includes more than 100 artworks spanning traditional, contemporary, modern, and popular genres. Museum officials say they’ve never before displayed some of the pieces.
Sow unveiled his work Thursday evening before an audience of hundreds. The massive sculpture depicts Toussaint Louverture with an elderly slave woman at his feet. He said he created the work in 1989 to mark the bicentennial of the French Revolution, but that he “had not seen it in 20 years”. Through a translator he said, “It was bought by a Senegalese citizen living in the U.S. who sold it to an American collector, who then sold it at an auction in Paris where it was purchased by the African Art Museum.”
Sow said it was important for the sculpture to capture the “determination” of Louverture, a former slave who became a general in the French army before returning to Haiti to become a larger-than-life figure in the Haitian Revolution, as well as the “despair of the Haitian people” at the hands of the French. Sow is very proud his creation is on display in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, especially after learning during his visit to Washington that slave labor built the building. “To have this piece here has meaning and is a place where it should be,” he said. “It is very important.”
Museum director Dr. Johnetta Betsch Cole welcomed the addition of Sow’s masterpiece. “It will become for our museum what the Mona Lisa is to the Louvre,” she said.
Additional guests at the opening included, Ambassador Robin Sanders, U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Bernadette Paolo, President of The Africa Society, Michel Martin, host of Tell me More NPR, Gwen Ifill, Host of PBS News hour, Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History Art and Culture, The Smithsonian Institution and NMAFA board members Stu Bohart and Art Mbanefo.
“African Mosaic: Celebrating a Decade of Collecting” opens Nov. 19 and continues through 2011.