African Modern & Contemporary Art

Chéri Samba and Congolese Popular Painting

By Eden Abramowitz

N ewly independent and revitalised, the 1960s in the Democratic Republic of Congo was marked by a notable surge in creativity as artists sought to form a new identity for the country – one that could document its history and exciting future. In the early 1970s, a group of self-taught Congolese artists working and living in Kinshasa founded the movement known today as Popular Painting. It plays with satire, irony and humour to address everyday life in the capital including social, political and economic issues such as popular customs, sexuality, AIDS, social inequity and corruption. The four founding members - Chéri Samba, Moké, Chéri Chérin and Pierre Bodo - are highly influenced by advertising, some having worked as billboard painters in the city. They combine bright, bold colours with text to create politically charged conversation pieces that address viewers directly and honestly.


One of the top lots at Sotheby’s inaugural Modern & Contemporary African Art Sale in May 2016 was painted by Samba, who commonly signs his works as ‘Chéri Samba: Artiste Populaire’. Samba’s vibrant palette in Une vie non raté (A Successful Life) shows a familiar everyday family scene in the home. A father, leaning proudly on his Mercedes Benz, is accompanied by a woman who is cooking, and five children gathered around speakers. Samba’s text reminds us of their fortune, explaining that life is not failed with the ability to birth, multiply and own land for the offspring. He diverts the idea of an underdeveloped Congolese community to celebrate the modernity and riches of family in Kinshasa with a painting style that is captivating and aesthetically charming.

Our Modern and Contemporary African Art specialist will be in Brussels offering free and confidential appraisals on 6 and 7 September. Artists of interest include William Kentridge, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Chéri Samba, Yusuf Grillo, Irma Stern, Bodys Isek Kingelez, Gerard Sekoto, Ben Enwonwu, El Anatsui, Julie Mehretu, Ibrahim El Salahi and Abdoulaye Konaté among many others.

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