Chéri Samba was born in the Democratic Republicof Congo. Currently living and working out of Kinshasa, Samba began his careeras an artist without anyformal education, starting out as a sign painterbefore joining Moké and Bodo, along with his younger brother CheikLedy.Together they run one of the most popular schools of painting. Atthe age of sixteen he left his village to find work as a sign painter in thecapital Kinshasa, where he began to develop a body of works that combinedrepresentational painting and text. Samba's paintings of this period reveal hisperception of the social, political, economic and cultural realities of Zaïre,exposing all facets of everyday life in Kinshasa. The paintings to be presentedin this exhibition, courtesy of MAGNIN-A Paris, “J'aime bien son dos”, “LeRisque du métier”, “Les relations inutiles”, “Je ne suis pas aimé”, offer arunning commentary on popular customs, sexuality, AIDS and other illnesses,social inequalities, and corruption. From the late 1980s on, he himself becamethe main subject of his paintings. For Samba, this is not an act of narcissism;rather, like an anchor on TV news broadcasts, he places himself in his work toreport on what it means to be a successful African artist on the world stage.
A self-proclaimed “‘undisciplinable’hero,” Chéri Samba likes to throw people off track. Through his words, hecancels out the visual polysemy of his paintings, while artificially proposinga singular reading. This is a way of blocking subversive interpretations, ofprotecting himself by pretending not to engage in politics, and of maintainingcontrol over the narrative of his life and work. It is also a way of keepingscholars and curators from attaching their own overly normative (or in any caseinsufficiently de-centered) narratives to his work—or from otherwise bending itto their needs.
In his paintings, he comments on himself. Hequestions and establishes the evolution of his material conditions, his statusas an artist, his own fame, the level of that fame, his own place and that ofhis peers in the art history of his country—and within the larger discipline ofart history.
In 1979 Samba participated in the exhibition Moderne Kunst aus Afrika,organised in West Berlin as part of the first Horizonte-Festival derWeltkulturen. Other exhibitions include The Global Contemporary ArtWorlds After 1989 (Zentrum für Kunstund Medientechnologie Karlsruhe,Germany: 2011-2012); JAPANCONGO, Carsten Höllerʼs double-takeon Jean Pigozziʼs collection at Le Magasin, Centre national d’Art Contemporain,Grenoble, France (2011); Why Africa? (Pinacoteca Giovanni eMarella Agnelli, Turin, Italy: 2007-2008); Popular Painting fromKinshasa (Tate Modern, London, UK: 2007-2008). In 2007 Sambaparticipated in the 52nd Venice Biennale, Universes in Universe (Venice,Italy); and in 2004 was included in the travelling exhibition AfricaRemix: Art contemporain d’un continent (Germany, UK, France, Tokyo:2004).