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J'aime La Couleur (I Like Color)

CHÉRI SAMBA

JEROME N. GALIZA
JUDI MELLE CAJULAO
Description

Chéri Samba or Samba wa Mbimba N’zingo Nuni Masi Ndo Mbasi (born December
30, 1956 in Kinto M’Vuila) is a painter from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is one
of the most famous contemporary African artists, with his works being included in the
collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in
New York. A large amount of his paintings are also found in The Contemporary African
Art Collection (CAAC) of Jean Pigozzi. He has been invited to participate in the 2007
Venice Biennale. His paintings almost always include text in French and Lingala,
commenting on life in Africa and the modern world. Chéri Samba lives in Kinshasa and
Paris.

In "J'aime la couleur", Chéri Samba presents us with a fully frontal self-portrait


which appears almost superimposed on the canvas. There is no perspective and depth is
virtually nonexistent, it is only suggested by the opposition of warm and light colors. The
powerful color palette, the simplification of the composition to its most essential
elements, the self-representation and its moralistic target, and importantly it's
monumental scale all make "J'aime la couleur" one of the most major works by the artist.

'I like the color' not to say 'I love painting.' The color is the universe, the universe
that's life, painting that's life. I made this painting also to stop saying that there are people
of color and others do not. It's a big mistake. As a painter, I feel that everything around me
and also 'people' have a color.' (Chéri Samba)

The artist has chosen to superimpose a self-portrait on warm and powerful colors.
Without perspective, the depth is only suggested here by the opposition between warm
and light colors. Using a speech bubble, « J’aime la couleur » (I like the color) recalls the
street art and popular drawing that marked the artist’s training. A minimalist
composition, a rich chromatic pallet, a monumental dimension ; all of these characteristic
features make it one of the major works by the artist. Halfway between true and distorted
naivety but always with humor, social satire is at work in the paintings of Chéri Samba,
who draws his subject matters from his immediate environment as a meticulous observer
of contemporary society.

The artist’s warm brown face and torso are set off against a bright blue sky; but the
head and shoulders, sliced into a ribbon, float away from the rest of his body, making it
possible to see the inside of his skin, a fleshy pink that creates a bold contrast with the
sky. He holds a dripping paintbrush garnered with flowers between his teeth as drops of
paint fall like blood from his mouth.

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He breaks downs his favorite topics by inviting on to his canvases highly
expressive characters, often with a moralistic message. Thus, he addresses in turn the
issues of health and hygiene, the fight against AIDS, the torments of married life,
prostitution and racism, in paintings seem to be posters for public awareness campaigns.
The strength of his painting undoubtedly lies in the art of dealing with controversial issues
based on the paradoxes that are found in developing countries.

Formal Analysis

“J’aime la Couleur” is part of the Fondation Louis Vuitton collection. In this highly
symbolic painting Chéri Samba represents himself with a brush in the mouth unrolling his
own portrait as a spiral with the immensity of the blue sky as a background. The artist's
head is portrayed as a winding spiral against a bright blue sky. He holds a dripping
paintbrush between his teeth. The work is an expression of how Samba experiences the
world.

Emphasis

He usually paints himself at the center of his visual social commentaries. This 2003
painting, whose title translates as "I Like Color," is composed of acrylic and glitter on
campus.

Interpretation

He presents a truly thought-provoking assessment of black identity in his J'aime La


Couleur. He presents an optimistic outlook both on color in strictly chromatic terms and,
not far below the surface, on the place of people of color (in all their variety) in the world.
The identities of "mixed" people are socially constructed in different ways by the same
processes. It may be that the people who have been labeled as "mixed," and who have
therefore been left between categories, will gain the most in security of identity out of the
current biological advance and social rethinking. As in earlier times, the nature of black
identity is linked to the nature of human identity and human community. The problem of
community is now posed in a different fashion. There is no way to go back to the past. But
just as black people have worked to create larger communities-national communities and
pan-African communities-so does humanity in general face the need to define a human
community.

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Evaluation

Cheri uses his paintings as a megaphone. As an editorialist, he gives his mood


tickets to the world. His voice is that of a free electron, he does not hesitate to denounce
the misfortunes that hit his continent hard. Painter-storyteller, he becomes a polemicist
by adding to his drawings sentences written with a brush. Cheri is the herald of his art, the
spokesperson of his life, it is as interlocutor that he represents himself in his paintings.
Inescapable figure, he is there every time present, narrator and actor of a life he declaims.
All self-portraits are like the sheets of a diary written daily. Through his positions, his
reactions, he gives briefs of life, bits of stories.

The style is childish, the denunciation or the stance too much in the first degree.
Everything is too simple, too premacheal, everything is already digested before being stated.
It remains that this painter, less than fifty years old, declares his love for painting and color.
Several beautiful paintings represent it in rings of paint, a few drops of acrylic fall from his
brush. In these times that praise photography and video, it's interesting to see figurative
painting and real stories written with a brush.

Rather rare, this painter paints faces and stories. Between information and art, he
takes the gamble of chronicling his time and his contemporaries, is rare enough to be
remembered.

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