Persona December, 18th 2020 by

World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 294 - Chéri Samba  

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World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 294 – Chéri Samba  
Chéri Samba’s paintings are about poverty, indignation about stupid opinions about his culture, corruption and chaos. Chéri Samba: “I appeal to people’s consciences … I paint reality, even if it is shocking, I put humor and color in it to attract people. I also have a lot of work on race and identity as in the painting ‘J’aime la couleur’. “

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The Congolese painter Chéri Samba was born in 1956 as David Samba in Kinto M’Vuila. He was the oldest of ten children. He grew up in a rural environment. His father was a blacksmith, his mother a farmer.

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Religion lessons
His original name was David Samba, but when the government banned Christian first names, he first called himself Samba wa Mbimba N’zingo Nuni Masi Ndo Mbas and then Chéri Samba. His surname, Samba, has two meanings in the Kikongo language, the first referring to the act of prayer and the second the act of being condemned.

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Samba’s parents were associated with the Congo culture, but Samba chose to identify with the Kinshasa culture, the capital of his country. He became a Catholic following religious lessons in elementary school. But when he left school, it loosened up. Since then he has been a Catholic with a Zairian twist.

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Billboard painter and cartoonist
After primary school, he went to high school. At school, Samba was always drawing. His father didn’t like that, but Samba didn’t care.
At sixteen he left school and his village to settle as an advertising painter in the Congolese capital Kinshasa. He established his own studio in 1975 and he met artists such as Moké and Bodo. With them and his brother Cheik Ledy, they eventually formed one of the country’s most vibrant art groups ever.

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At the same time, he also became an illustrator for the entertainment magazine Bilenge Info. Working both as a billboard painter and as a cartoonist, he used the styles of both genres when he started making his paintings on jute sack material. He borrowed the use of ‘word balloons’ from comic strip art, which allowed him to add not only narrative but also commentary to his compositions, giving him his distinctive style of combining painting with text. His work earned him local fame.

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Samba handwriting
Chéri Samba gradually developed his characteristic ‘Samba handwriting’ of colorful, glitter-dusted, narrative paintings full of accompanying texts in which the artist personally comments on the world and often figures himself. They are humorous and wry paintings that have the immediacy of comics. «J’avais remarqué que les gens dans la rue passaient devant les peintures, les regardaient et continuaient. Je pensais que si j’ajoutais un peu de texte, les gens devraient s’arrêter et prendre le temps de le lire, the se plonger davantage dans la peinture et de l’admirer» (I thought if I added a bit of text people should stop and take the time to read it, delve more into the painting and admire it), the artist later explained. For his work he coined the designation “peinture nationale” – an art movement behind which other artists of his generation also rallied.

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Centre Pompidou
In 1979 he took part in the exhibition “Moderne Kunst aus Africa” in West Berlin. The Magiciens de la Terre exhibition at the Centre Pompidou and the Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris (1989) marked the international breakthrough for Samba’s work. Today, Chéri Samba is regarded as one of the most important African artists, and his work can no longer be ignored in biennials and global overviews of contemporary art.

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Venice Biennale
Samba is also not entirely unknown in the Netherlands. His work was promoted by the Arnhem Galerie 20 x 2 of Felix Valk and Galerie Apunto in Amsterdam. Samba’s paintings featured prominently in the Africa Now exhibition in the Groninger Museum (1991) and the African Art Events manifestation in Maastricht (1992). In 2005 the artist was awarded a prize from the Prince Claus Fund.
In 2007, curator Robert Storr invited Samba to participate in the 52nd International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale entitled ‘Think with the Senses – Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense’, described by The Huffington Post as ‘Certainly, thé exhibition of this new century.’ In 2019 Museum DeDomijnen in Sittard had a retrospective exhibition of his work.

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1) La Vraie Carte du monde – 1, 2011, 2) Kalasi Ki Nduenga, 2005, 3) Le Chieur dans le Ventilateur, 4) J’ aime la Couleur, 2003, 5) Mieux la Chenille, 6) Monde vomissant, 2003, 7) Les tours de Babel dans le monde, 1991, 8) Le renoncement a la prostitution, 1999, 9) Un jour de 8 Mars Madimba, 2000, 10) La Vraie Carte du monde – 2, 2011

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