Chéri Samba, whose real name is Samba Wa Mbimba Nzinga, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1956. He discovered drawing at a very young age, while playing with sticks in the sand, and continued by scribbling in his school notebooks — and so he found his calling.
His mastery of line was appreciated by his friends, for whom he imitated comic books and designed logos for the local soccer team. In a hurry to shape his own destiny, he moved to Kinshasa in 1972, where he earned his living painting advertising signs as an assistant to the men who were masters of the streets in those days — sign painters from the Apuza, Lomabaku and Mbuta Masunda studios, who taught him how to paint letters and reproduce illustrations in large formats. While covering the walls with his illustrated advertisements, he also drew cartoons for his magazine Bilenge Info, and eventually transferred them to canvas.
This new medium gave birth to his first “speech-bubble” paintings. In 1975, he finally set up on his own and opened a studio on Avenue Kasa-Vubu in Kinshasa. His work is informed by the details of the society around him, as in the painting Zairian Woman Has No Right to Wear Pants (1981), which attracted the attention of the French magazine Actuel in 1982. The editors asked him to draw his personal vision of Paris in a number of illustrations, among them the piquant ASSEDIC ANPE. Along with these social commentaries, Chéri Samba also evokes such universal questions as disease, inequality, power, corruption, jealousy, sexuality and international current events. When he first started out, he did not have room to exhibit his paintings, so he hung them on the outside walls of his studio, causing memorable traffic jams in the streets of Kinshasa and hostile reactions from the authorities, who felt targeted by his illustrated satires.
In the late 1980s, he began to depict himself in his works in the role of a commentator. Chéri Samba always uses the same rich, lively, contrasting palette, sometimes softening the harshness of a work’s message by decorating it with sequins. By offering an attractive form no matter what the meaning, he makes art less arcane and opens it up to the enjoyment of everyone. These paintings are highly popular locally, and Chéri Samba has become a symbol of Kinshasa, where he still lives and works.
In addition to illustrating his explorations of cities, Chéri Samba often exhibits his work around the world, thanks to the loyal support of the curator André Magnin. In 1989, Europeans discovered his then-unknown “popular art” through the exhibition “magicians of the Earth” at Paris’s Centre Pompidou and Grande Halle de la Villette. It was followed by many other projects, including some in collaboration with Jean Pigozzi, the Fondation Cartier and the Guggenheim museum, which helped turn Chéri Samba into a major player on the contemporary art scene.
LOUIS VUITTON TRAVEL BOOK PARIS
Images via Louis Vuitton