Bela Sara

Bela Sara, who was originally from Chad, became one of the foremost painters from central Africa in the mid-20th century. He began to paint his celebrated scenes of animals and nature while working in the late 1940s as a night guard in Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) in the former Belgian Congo, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Bela Sara’s career as an artist began while he was employed by Pierre Romain-Desfossés, a former pilot for the Free French who had been sent to the Belgian Congo after the war. Romain-Desfossés was also an amateur painter, patron of the arts, and journalist who said he wanted to encourage local painters. He founded an art school in the 1940s that became known as the Hangar. The school gave rise to an important modernist movement in central Africa, which also included Pilipili Mulongoy and Mwenze Kibwanga.

Throughout his career, Bela painted with his fingers, achieving striking results in scenes of the natural world and also the interactions between people and animals. He painted hunters stalking their prey, and sometimes reversed the situation and showed hunters becoming the hunted (see 2019.2.2). According to an article in "Jeune Afrique", “Animées de contours incertains, de couleurs profondes et contrastées, ses oeuvres "pointillistes" sont décoratives et pleines de fraîcheur, ce qui n’enlève rien à leur mystère.” (”Animated by uncertain contours, deep and contrasting colors, his "pointillist" works are decorative and full of freshness, which does not detract from their mystery.”)

While Romain-Desfossés encouraged students to paint scenes from nature, Bela’s close attention to animals’ movements and expressions suggest that possibly, like other night guards, he was also a hunter who was skilled in using a slingshot and bow and arrow.

• Yolanda Valois. “Il s’appelait Bela.” Entre les lignes, April 29, 2021. Accessed May 3, 2023.’appelait-bela.

• Koli Jean Bophane. “Démystifier la tradition.” Le Monde, July 9, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2023.

• Marlène Panara. “Beauté Congo - 1926-2015 : l’art congolais dévoilé par la Fondation Cartier.” Jeune Afrique. July 9, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2023.