The exhibition documents a period of more than 10 years during which Chéri Samba (b. December 30, 1956) has established himself beyond the borders of his homeland Zaire as an important representative of contemporary Black African art.

With this first comprehensive presentation of Chéri Samba's painting in Germany, Portikus also takes into account the fact that contemporary art from Africa and South America - just to name two examples - has in the past years increasingly become the focus of attention in the international art-world. The international exhibition "Magiciens de la terre", organised by Jean-Hubert Martin in 1989, is but one outstanding example of this increased interest that seems to finally be freeing itself from the bias against art from countries of the so-called "Third World".

This is a remarkable phenomenon in that the bias against art from these countries grew out of a critical stance towards one's own, i.e. Western colonial politics, leading to a categorisation clearly and one-sidedly favouring traditional art free of Western influences as opposed to contemporary art examining these influences. Such an ahistorical view frequently remained restricted to its preference of the original, exotic aspect of foreign cultures and their influence on the development of modernism, while current art production by contemporary Black African or Latin American artists was at the same time not taken seriously or ignored. The reasons for revising this view in favour of a more differentiated perception are too manifold to be discussed in this context. One fundamental factor, however, is the undeniable state of stagnation in the Western art-world, promoting an increased openness towards hitherto neglected areas.

In regard to contents and form, Chéri Samba's painting is characterised by the immediate concern with Zaire's social reality in respect to his personal existence as an artist. The contexts of his world of images deal with conflicts symptomatic of many young African states, stemming from the inevitable confrontation between Western civilisation and one's own deeply-rooted traditions, conflicts which have not been resolved after the withdrawal of the former colonial powers. This political dimension of his work also characterises his artistic practice which reflects his own artistic background as a sign-painter and illustrator. Samba merges these fundaments in his narrative pictorial figures; applying texts and balloons, a topic is frequently illustrated with the cutting irony of a social satire. In this respect, Samba's pictures are far from expressing naivety towards the way he illustrates his topics. Moreover, they reveal an artistic naturalness indicating an attitude in which the artist is fully aware of the problematics of his own situation.

Photo: Katrin Schilling