Seen rightly as a “painter reporter” of city life, Moke (born 1950, Ibe, Bandundu Province, Belgian Congo, died in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2001) was among the leading artists of the school of popular painting that sprung up in Kinshasa in the first decade of Zaïre’s independence. He arrived in Kinshasa at the age of ten, living hand to mouth and day by day. Discovering that there was a market for paintings, he taught himself how to render landscapes on discarded pieces of cardboard. In 1965 he painted a picture representing General Mobutu waving to the crowds as he led the parade commemorating Independence Day; this composition, which he returned to many times in later years, launched Moke’s career. He set up a studio at the crossroads of Kasa Vubu and Bolobo avenues, the district where many billboard and advertising artists worked, and immersed himself in the daily life of the city from which he drew his inspiration.

Moke adopted the conventions of commercial art, boldly outlining his robust figures without concern for likeness or perspective. Instead, he celebrated the painterly aspects of his art, using a rich palette and vividly animated compositions. Unlike Chéri Samba or Cheik Ledy, who were to follow in his footsteps, Moke rarely depicted social conflict. Rather, his sympathetic and vivaciously humorous paintings were grounded in his observation of daily life in Kinshasa: street scenes, bars, the local dandies known as sapeurs, the powerful Miziki (associations of financially independent women), all-night parties, neighborhood disputes, and public ceremonies all found their way into his canvases.


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