Chéri Samba

Chéri Samba, one of the best-known contemporary African painters, was born in a village in central Congo in 1956. His parents named him David, but he changed his name to Chéri Samba after the government required the use of local names rather than Christian ones, in what was called “a return to authenticity.” His father, a blacksmith, wanted Samba to work with him, but he insisted on spending more time drawing in the sand than helping his father. When he was 16, he went to Kinshasa where he become an apprentice to a billboard painter. He soon had his own shop, painting signs and billboards for customers. At the same time, he began creating comic strips for a magazine. He soon met up with the artists Moké and Bodo, and they became the core of a group that eventually evolved into a well-known school of painting in Kinshasa.

Samba’s career as an artist developed at a time when Kinshasa was a lively cultural center, with many galleries selling works by African artists. Chéri Samba, Chéri Chérin, and Moké were successful both locally and internationally.

In his own work, Samba drew on the techniques that he had learned making cartoons and billboards, including using text in his paintings. He said that by adding text he could present his ideas. A practical reason, too, he said was that people would have to stop and read the text in his paintings, instead of just rushing by so they might pay more attention to his work. Deeply engaged in the bustling life of Kinshasa, Samba’s work addresses politics, poverty, corruption, and the chaos of daily life. He said that he makes an appeal to people’s consciences. From the late 80s onwards, he has painted himself in his works, and one writer compared him to “an anchor on TV news reporting on what it is like to be a successful African artist on the world stage.” He first received major international attention for his work in “Magiciens de la Terre,” the landmark exhibition at the Pompidou Center in 1989, making him one of the first contemporary African artists to have his work shown in Europe. The collector Jean Pigozzi and the gallery owner André Magnin helped introduce him to the international art world. Today, his work is in many collections and museums in DRC, Europe and the US. He has had solo exhibitions and been included in dozens of exhibitions. The Pompidou Centre, MOMA, and the Contemporary African Art Collection of Jean Pigozzi own his paintings. In 2007, he was invited to the Venice Biennale. Today, Chéri Samba lives in Kinshasa and Paris.

• African Loxo. “Bio Chéri Samba”. Artistes / République Démocratique du CONGO.

• CAACART. “Chéri Samba.” The Jean Pigozzi Contemporary African Art Collection.

• Rebecca Anne Proctor. “Congo Is in a ‘Cultural Crisis’. Here’s How Artists, Dealers, and Collectors in the Capital of Kinshasa Are Using Art to Solve the Problem.” Artnet news, September 1st, 2022.

• Chéri Samba.