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Senegal mourns world-renowned sculptor Ousmane Sow

Associated Press logo Associated Press 12/1/2016 By BABACAR DIONE, Associated Press
FILE - In this Dec.11, 2013 file photo, Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow gestures while being enthroned at France's Academy of Fine Arts, in Paris. Sow, whose work celebrated African tribes along with historical icons such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., has died at 81, the culture minister said Thursday, Dec 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Dec.11, 2013 file photo, Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow gestures while being enthroned at France's Academy of Fine Arts, in Paris. Sow, whose work celebrated African tribes along with historical icons such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., has died at 81, the culture minister said Thursday, Dec 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere, File)

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Ousmane Sow, a Senegalese sculptor whose work celebrated African tribes along with historical icons such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., has died at 81, the culture minister said Thursday.

FILE - In this Dec.11, 2013 file photo, Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow arrives to be enthroned at the Beaux Arts Academy, in Paris. Senegal's culture minister says Ousmane Sow, a sculptor whose work celebrated African tribes along with historical icons such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., has died at 81. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Dec.11, 2013 file photo, Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow arrives to be enthroned at the Beaux Arts Academy, in Paris. Senegal's culture minister says Ousmane Sow, a sculptor whose work celebrated African tribes along with historical icons such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., has died at 81. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere, File)

The Senegalese people "are losing one of their most emblematic figures" — a man who was "admired everywhere," Mbagnick Ndiaye said in a statement. In a separate statement, President Macky Sall credited Sow with producing "characters and scenes that bear witness to the long history of Africa, its identity and its relationship to the rest of the world."

The cause of death was not immediately available.

Born in Dakar in 1935, Sow moved to Paris "without a penny in his pocket" following the death of his father, according to a biography on his website. He originally trained as a physical therapist before devoting himself fully to sculpture at age 50, the website says.

His first exhibition was organized by Dakar's French Cultural Center in 1987. He gained renown for dramatic depictions of the human form sculpted without the use of models.

In 1999, an exhibition on the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris drew so many visitors that local media warned the crush of people could undermine the bridge's security. The 68 works depicted the Maasai, Peul and Nuba tribes as well as the Native Americans who triumphed over George Custer and his men at the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn. Some of the Little Bighorn pieces were later displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Sow was admitted to France's Academy of Fine Arts in 2013.

He prided himself on bringing a distinctly African "attitude" to his work despite spending 20 years in France, according to his website, which notes that ultimately "nothing and nobody could make him leave his African land."

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Associated Press writer Robbie Corey-Boulet contributed to this report from Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

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