Chéri Samba - Painting Daily Life in Kinshasa

"Artists must make people think"

Contemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

Little Kadogo (2004) by Chéri SambaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

In 1972 Chéri Samba (born in 1956, Kinto M'Vuila, Belgian Congo) left school in order to apprentice himself to the sign painters on Kasa Vubu Avenue in Kinshasa; from this circle of artists (which included Moke, Bodo, and later Samba’s younger brother Cheik Ledy among others) arose one of the most vibrant schools of popular painting in the twentieth century.

Na couloir Ya Ba Peintres Oyo (1992) by Chéri SambaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

Working both as a billboard painter and a comic strip artist, Samba employed the conventions of both genres when he began making paintings on sacking cloth (canvas being too expensive) in 1975; most importantly, he borrowed from comic art the device of “word bubbles,” which allowed him to interject not only narrative but also commentary into his compositions.

A tribute to earlier artists (1999) by Chéri SambaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

Samba has recalled how he came to use text in this paintings: “I had noticed that people in the street would walk by paintings, glance at them and keep going. I thought that if I added a bit of text, people would have to stop and take time to read it, to get more into the painting and admire it. That’s what I called the ‘Samba signature.’ From then on I put text in all my paintings.”

The World Throwing Up (2004) by Chéri SambaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

In the early 1980s he began signing his paintings “Chéri Samba: Artiste Populaire.” Indeed, the popularity of his paintings soon went beyond Kinshasa’s city limits; by the mid 1980s his work was gaining an international audience.

To Think Before Acting (1990) by Chéri SambaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

Samba’s paintings of this period reveal his perception of the social, political, economic and cultural realities of Zaïre (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), exposing all facets of everyday life in Kinshasa.

The Admirer (1992) by Chéri SambaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

His canvases offer a running commentary on popular customs, sexuality, AIDS and other illnesses, social inequalities, and corruption.

After 9/11, 2001 (2002) by Chéri SambaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

Samba has explained, “My painting is concerned with people’s lives. I’m not interested in myths or beliefs. That’s not my goal. I want to change our mentality that keeps us isolated from the world. I appeal to people’s consciences. Artists must make people think.”

The Draughtsman, Chéri Samba (1981) by Chéri SambaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

From the late 1980s on, he himself became the main subject of his paintings.

A painting to defend (1993) by Chéri SambaContemporary African Art Collection - The Jean Pigozzi Collection

For Samba, this is not an act of narcissism; rather, like an anchor on TV news broadcasts, he places himself in his work to report on what it means to be a successful African artist on the world stage.

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