Inspired by Leni Riefenstahl's photographs of the Nuba people, Ousmane Sow left behind a career in physiotherapy for art. He became the first African to be elected a member of France's renowned Academie des Beaux-Arts.
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Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow died on Thursday at the age of 81, his family told AFP news agency.
"With his death, he leaves behind dreams and projects that his tired self could not carry out," his family said.
Born in Dakar in 1935, Sow held his first exhibition in 1987 in the Senegalese capital - his hometown - organized by the French cultural center.
For more than 20 years, he worked as a physiotherapist in and around Paris and Dakar before changing his career in the 1980s.
His most recognized work was a series of life-size sculptures of Nuba wrestlers inspired by the photographs of German film director Leni Riefenstahl.
He also completed sculptures of the Maasai, a tribe in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the Zulu of South Africa.
Sow became the first African to be named a member of France's prestigious Academie des Beaux-Arts, being elected as a foreign associate in 2012.
His sculptures have been displayed across the globe, including 1992's edition of documenta IX, which takes place once every five years, and the Whitney Museum in New York.
Senegalese Minister for Culture Mgabnick Ndiaye said that Sow's passing was "a very great loss for Senegalese and African sculpture" and that "the works of art that he exhibited worldwide show that he was a giant of culture."