Chėri Samba or Samba wa Mbimba N'zingo Nuni Masi Ndo Mbasi, is a contemporary visual artist whose paintings, at first glance, depict scenes of life and culture. Samba’s work is known for pushing boundaries and conveying powerful messages about society, the economy, and political unrest within the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“My aim is to tell stories and call people's knowledge to mind,” said Samba in an interview with Our Choices Art.
His colourful and eye-catching graphic paintings shed light on controversial yet paramount themes such as political corruption, social disparity, AIDS, war, and oppression. His mission as an artist aligns with The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, which advocate for human rights and equality for all.
Although Samba’s paintings do depict a specific culture, his message remains strong and transgresses geographical borders. His work speaks a universal language that everyone can understand instantly.
Samba was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (RDC) in 1956. According to Magnin-A, he grew up in a hardworking household where his father was a blacksmith and his mother was a farmer. From an early age, Samba would draw in his notebooks during school and always had a keen interest in art.
According to his biography, at the age of 16, Samba left his village to find work as a sign painter. In 1975, he opened up his studio, where he was an illustrator for Bilenge Info. His artistic style draws inspiration from the comics and signs he created, particularly incorporating elements like 'word bubbles' commonly found in comic art.. Samba utilizes this technique in his paintings as a unique form of commentary. Today, it is his signature and what makes his art uniquely his own.
Samba’s paintings are full of vivid, rich colours that follow a specific scheme. He utilizes acrylic and oil paint and often includes glitter in his work. According to Magnin-A, his bright palette is a stark juxtaposition to the rather dark theme and subject matter of the paintings themselves.
“When I undertake a painting, I define the subject, the idea, and the message. The image is clearly in my head, even the colours. I draw the subject precisely with a pencil, right down to the details, directly on the canvas, without any preliminary sketch. I allow myself up to three versions of the same painting, but slightly different,” he said in Magnin-A. explains that
Samba explains that he would work on canvas or fabric he found from the ground and that he always preferred painting to sculpture. “I found ceramics or sculpture to be arduous,” he said in an Our Choices Art interview, “I can express myself much better in paintings.”
His acrylic and glitter painting, Argent et fusils (Guns and Money), depicts a Black infant who is at the centre of the earth. On either side of the boy is a depiction of George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden. The American flag obstructs Bush’s face and the Afghanistan flag obstructs bin Laden’s; both flags are depicted upside down suggesting distress and destruction in each country.
Towards the bottom of the globe is the phrase, “avec tous ces fusils, y-a-t'il quel avenir pour nous les bebes?” which translates to “With all these guns, what future is there for us babies?” The globe appears to be sinking into the ground taking the infant with it; the child is painted every so slightly with a frown. In the top centre of the painting, Samba has written, “Argent et fusils, finiront par tuer le monde,” translating to “guns and money will kill the world.”
Samba says that he hopes his paintings will, “make people think.” “My inspiration comes from everyday life, and I paint the reality that everybody knows. Sometimes you have to provoke by telling the truth.”
Samba’s 2003 painting J'aime La Couleur (I Like Color), is an acrylic and glitter portrait of himself holding a paintbrush between his teeth. The paintbrush on one end is balancing a plate of sea creatures and on the other end, the paintbrush drips colours of the rainbow. He paints himself as an open spiral, revealing his body's pink and blue insides. According to Samba, his painting is meant to reflect the colour and joy that is within all of us but often forgotten due to the troubling circumstances of life. “Colour is everywhere,” said Samba in The Skateroom article, “Colour is life. Our heads must rotate as a spiral that surrounds us is none other than colours. Colour is the universe, the universe is life, painting is life.”
He explains that his paintings are meant to stir up feelings and thoughts that may be uncomfortable.
According to Samba, he has been arrested twice because his paintings have been so controversial.
“If it leads to me being arrested because I tell the truth, it does not upset me because this is what I want to paint.”
It is Samba’s goal that people take his paintings seriously, not just the artwork itself but rather the message behind them, “I want my work to be known everywhere.”