Chéri Samba

Born in 1956 in Kinto M'Vuila, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Lives and works in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

At school, Chéri Samba draws in his school notebooks and imitates the humorous comics of the magazine Jeunes pour Jeunes. Aware of the success of his drawings, instead of following his father's trade as a blacksmith, he left school and moved to Kinshasa in 1972. At first he had difficulty finding a job, an episode in his life that inspired the painting L'espoir fait vivre (1989). He finally found a job with Mbuta-Masunda, a painter of advertising signs, who hired him on the condition that he passed two tests: reproducing a photograph of an old father with a pencil, and a calligraphic work in "gothic" letters. Having never heard this word, he draws letters of his own invention which please a lot and ensure him this job. He then worked for the entertainment newspaper Bilenge Info on the adventures of Lolo m'a déçu, the story of a married man and his young mistress, which had already made him popular when, on October 10, 1975, he moved to 89, at the corner of Kasa-Vubu and Birmanie avenues, in the Ngiri-Ngiri area: "My life and my work are a whole. There was a joyful competition between artists and to differentiate myself, I created the "Sambaïan label". I had my look, my advertisements, my banners in front of the studio, my letterhead and business cards with photo, my Chéri Samba stamp... I wanted to make a maximum communication. One is never better served than by oneself!"

His paintings are always painted in a rich chromatic palette, vivid, contrasted and most often glittery as to play down the subject. Whatever his message, Chéri Samba wants to make the spectators enter his paintings without apprehension: "When I undertake a painting, I define the subject, the idea, the message, the very title. The image is clearly in my head, even the colors... I draw the subject precisely with a pencil, right down to the details, directly on the canvas, without any preliminary sketch. I allow myself up to three versions of the same painting, but slightly different."
In 1975, he made his first self-portrait, and in 1985, he decided to make himself the regular subject of his paintings so that his name as well as his face would be recognized: "Whether the subjects of my paintings concern me directly or not, I prefer to represent myself anyway. Since I am the one who paints, these are my ideas, I decide on the subject, I decide on the comments... so why put someone else's face instead of mine? Having noticed that the spectators pass by the paintings with only a wink, Chéri Samba also puts texts, or comments, within his paintings. The writing thus attracts attention and allows one to better admire and penetrate the work. The artist describes this style as "Samba's claw". For him art has no boundaries. The themes he tackles are universal: he stages current events, morals, sexuality, illness, social inequalities, corruption, etc.


Musée National d'Art Moderne - Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
Museum of Modern Art - MoMa, New York, United States
Seattle Art Museum, Seatlle, United States
Musée royal d'Afrique centrale, Tervuren, Belgique. 
Collection LVMH, Paris, France
Smithsonian Institute, National Museum of African Art, Washington, USA
Collection LVMH, Paris, France
Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris, France
CAAC - The Pigozzi Collection, Genève, Suisse
Collection Sindika Dokolo, Luanda, Angola
Fondation Alliances, Marrakech, Moroco
Zeitz Mocaa, Cape Town, South Africa
Collection agnès b., Paris, France
Collection Lilian Thuram, Paris, France
Collection Farida et Henri Seydoux, Paris, France
Collection Gervanne et Matthias Leridon, Paris, France