Chéri Samba is one of the African artists who achieved a breakthrough after the “Magiciens de la terre” [Magicians of the World] exhibition in Paris, 1989. From being a painter with a local reputation in Kinshasa, he became an internationally renowned artist, whose work is exhibited throughout the capitals of the world and is highly successful, especially in France. Samba was born in Belgian Congo which became Zaire in 1971 and renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997. He began painting as a child, and in 1972, aged 16, left school and travelled to the capital Kinshasa, where he worked as a sign painter. Soon he opened his own studio and his paintings at its front attracted a wide clientele. His style is figurative and narrative, each painting a visual essay with a moral about issues from Congo’s cultural, economic, political and social reality: corrupt leadership, socio-economic gaps, women’s rights, AIDS, hunger, famous figures. In his paintings, Samba integrates texts in French, English or Lingala, in a comic book style, which serve as titles or verbal commentary. His own figure often appears in his paintings, in the role of an educator or preacher. Many of his paintings deal with Painting itself and with its power and that of the painter to change reality.
In the early 1980s he began signing his works “Chéri Samba, artiste populaire,” i.e. popular or folk artist—a term elucidating his commitment to the community in which he operates. Gradually, a group of artists, including his younger brother, known as Cheik Ledy, gathered around his Kinshasa studio and developed the colorful narrative painting style, which is divided into sections and accompanied by texts. In A Painting Worth Defending (1993) Samba is standing with his legs spread apart, a paint brush in one hand and a paint tin in the other, while two gallerists wrestle and attempt to steal his painting. The painting within the painting is a reproduction of a work by Moké, a painter belonging to the Kinshasa artist circle. Thus Samba hopes his own success happens to other artists, while simultaneously warning against the corrupt power of the art market.
1956 Kinto M'Vuila, Belgian Congo
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo