The career of Congolese artist Chéri Samba | Tunde Folawiyo

Chéri Samba was born in Democratic Republic of Congo, to a farmer and a blacksmith. His father expected him to join his blacksmith business, but Samba had no interest in this trade. In 1970, he left secondary school and two years later, he moved in with his uncle in Tunde FolawiyoKinshasa. He took up work as a sign painter, and began to learn more about well-known artists such as Bodo and Moke; two figures whom most art enthusiasts, including Tunde Folawiyo, are likely to be familiar with.

It was here that he also discovered the artist Apuza, whose work was on display on the streets of the city; this inspired him to consider art as a profession, and he even spent some time working as Apuza’s apprentice. Later, after being trained by two other artists, he joined Apuza in his studio once again, but this time, as his collaborator.

In 1975, Samba decided to open up his own studio. At this point in his life, he was also working for a publication known as Bilegene Info, as an illustrator, whilst continuing his sign-painting. His new creative space, coupled with these jobs, led Samba to combine traditional illustrative techniques with comic-strip style word bubbles. The latter meant that he could now not only represent his opinions and emotions through imagery, but also through text.

Discussing his decision to add text to his paintings, Samba said that he hoped it would encourage people to spend more time examining the work, and therefore makes it easier for them to understand the message he was trying to convey. His paintings were well-received in his local area, and over the course of about four years, he began to receive international acclaim. He continued to make commissions for his African clientele, but also started to expand into Europe. In 1979, a number of his pieces were featured in a German exhibition entitled Moderne Kunst aus Afrika.

By the time the eighties rolled around, Samba had gained many international fans. As an art lover, Tunde Folawiyo might know that throughout this decade, Samba’s work focused almost entirely on his personal interpretation of the cultural, economic, political and social changes which were occurring in Democratic Republic of Congo. He depicted images which conveyed the corruption, illnesses and social inequalities which plagued the nation. However, as time wore on, Samba became more intrigued by the idea of self-portraiture; this, he explained, was not due to any form of narcissism, but was instead linked to his interest in portraying what it means to be an internationally successful African artist.

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