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Cheri Samba - Speaking Through Art

Updated: Jan 16, 2022

Cheri is the main character in the documentary ‘Kin Kiesse.’ In the documentary, Cheri tells viewers what he thinks about Kinshasa. He was critical in the filming of the documentary, and he managed to convince the Congolese television and the French Ministry of co-operation that Ngangura, the director was capable of making a good film on Kinshasa.

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Cheri became famous when he held his exhibition Les Mageciens de la Terre in Paris. Through this exhibition, he became known the entire world over. He opened his studio in 1975, and he became an illustrator for Bilenge Info magazine, and he also used to do art on billboards. He finally came up with the idea of doing his art on a piece of sackcloth.

Cheri would add some text and compositions and on his pieces, making his work unique. This idea came about when he realized that every time someone came to view his work on the street, they would take a look then walk away. He started adding texts to make the people at least take time to read what was on the picture and know what the painting is all about. Reading the text would also cause people to take time to have a proper view of the work. He also added word bubbles, an idea which he borrowed from the comic strips he used to write for the Bilenge magazine.

His works have been included in Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. He also has some work in The Contemporary Art Collection of Jean Pigozzi. Cheri was then requested by Robert Storr to take part in the Exhibition Venice Biennale which was later described as the best exhibition this century. He also took part in the ‘Moderne Kunst aus Afrika’ exhibition, which was related to the Horizonte Festival der Weltkulturen.

Cheri was born in Kinto M’Vuila to a blacksmith father and a farmer mother. He was the firstborn in a family of ten. In his teens, he left home and went to the capital Kinshasa to work as a sign painter. It is here that he met artists like Bodo and Moke. The trio plus Samba’s younger brother Cheik Ledy became an influential group of painters.

Cheri’s paintings give you a clear picture of what he thinks about political, social, economic and cultural issues that are going on in Congo. His paintings also show you the trends in customs, corruption and illnesses such as AIDS. One time he painted a portrait, and someone came and said the picture looked so much like someone he knew.

Cheri then changed the photo into a portrait of himself, and since then, he has always been the subject of his paintings to avoid such controversies. He says it is more like being a TV anchor giving your view on issues, and what it takes to be a successful artist. He uses a mixture of facts and humour in his paintings, and he says exactly what other people are afraid of saying.

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