Exhibition room 3. Chéri Samba

Born in Congo, Samba began as a sign painter, as can be seen in his use of image and text. His pieces comment on urban Africa and Paris in a moral and cautionary sense, as seen in Mosali Nzela (1991; Geneva, Jean Pigozzi priv. col.). Skilled in naturalistic rendering, he occasionally exaggerates features, underscoring his moral lesson. His paintings are usually crowded with varied moving figures, as seen in Grace na tata Mobutu (1986). Self-portraits are frequent, and his palette is bright and cheerful. He uses French, English, Lingala and a French patois to narrate his pictures, often over much of their surfaces, and has said, ‘The texts that I introduce on my canvases translate the thoughts of the people I depict in a given situation. It is a way of not allowing freedom of interpretation to a person who looks at my painting. For me, my work is incomplete if there aren’t any texts; they symbolize the fantasy.’

Source: Museum of Modern Art www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=25299

Samba’s triptych Quel avenir pour notre art? (What future for our art?) is his most complex meditation on the situation of contemporary African artists [...]. It focuses explicitly on Picasso’s legacy. Each canvas combines realistically painted images with texts (in two cases extensive commentaries on the scene represented). Like many African artists, Samba prefers realism to abstraction, both because of its easier legibility for diverse audiences and because in African countries, abstract art is often associated with the art training of the late colonial period. His engagement with Picasso is primarily conceptual. [...]

His focus in this work extends beyond Picasso’s individual actions to the position of African art in global culture. His choice of subject reflects the common conception of Picasso as both the foremost Western modern artist and the primary one to engage with non-Western cultures, particularly African cultures.

Source: exhibition catalogue for “Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions,” Michael FitzGerald