Sculpture of Toussaint Louverture is African Art’s “Mona Lisa”

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The African Art Museum's new exhibit, "African Mosaic," surveys works collected within the past ten years. The exhibit features more than 100 objects—everything from gold jewelry to ivory carvings to contemporary artworks.

"This particular opening really captures who we are, what this museum is about, and the extent of the diversity and dynamism of African art centered around a decade of collecting," said the museum's director Johnnetta Cole at a media preview last week.

One work in the exhibit is a standout, according to Cole, who says Ousmane Sow's sculpture of Haiti's liberator, Toussaint Louverture is sure to become a "destination work."  Just as Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" is to the Louvre Museum in Paris, Cole says the piece is certain to become the museum's must-see icon.

The work, a larger than life sculpture called "Toussaint Louverture and the Elderly Slave" by Sow, a Senegalese artist, towers at the entrance to the exhibit. Louverture (1743-1804) was a Haitian slave who led the Haitian uprising against French colonial rule around the turn of the 18th century. He is widely considered the great liberator of the Haitian people.

Sow, who moved from Senegal to Paris as a young man, created the sculpture in 1989 as part of a three-work series to commemorate the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Each work in the series depicts a hero to liberty, some are French and others, such as the Louverture are colonial subjects who rebelled against the French.

Sow uses a special material to make his sculptures, a mixture of natural fibers and clay. He tends the material every day, keeping it fresh and malleable, even if he doesn't work on his art at all.

Sow, who was present at the media preview, had not seen the work for 20 years, and said (in French, through a translator) that it was an emotional experience to see the piece once again. He said he felt that the work had, after two decades, finally found its true home.

"African Mosaic" is now on view through 2011 at the African Art Museum.

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