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find:Visual ArtsThe Congo

Cheri-Cherin (Kinkonda Joseph)  

painter, The Congo

Cheri-Cherin, 2004.
Photo: Sonja van Kerkhoff.

Translation with the artist from French: Bastiaan Körner.
Text: Sonja van Kerkhoff, 2004.

Cheri-Cherin was born in Kinshasa (The Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1955. After primary and secondary education he then graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa in 1978.

Today he is one of the main exponents of the Popular Art Movement of Kinshasa. Artists of this movement focus their subject matter on local contemporary life and art that is aimed for the locals.

A major exhibition of this movement was held in Brussels in 2003. Cheri-Cherin also has work in the touring exhibition, Africa Remix (2004 - 2005, Dusseldorf, Paris, London and Japan). He is one of the 80 African artists in the show.

In 2001 some artists of this movement formed the Ecole du Congo - AAPPO (AAPPO stands for Artists Association of Painters of the Popular (style)). They promote contemporary story-telling in painting and organize events and stimulate artists. While they are all based in Kinshasa, their hope is to influence the rest of the Congo. For example, Cheri-Cherin participated recently in an arts manifestation in Lumbumbashi (in the south-east).

Consultation, acrylic on canvas, by Cheri-Cherin, 2004.

Bastiaan Körner and Cheri-Cherin, in Gallery Art Korner
with Cheri-Cherin's paintings behind them.
Photo: Sonja van Kerkhoff, 2004.

This art movement doesn't have a particular ideology. It focusses on paintings which ordinary people can relate to, and often the messages in the work are clear or obvious.
Cheri-Cherin's work focuses more on celebration rather than critique. Such as in the work Consultation (above), here Africa visits the doctor: a westerner with various wares and ways of curing, including a fresh chicken. It is possible to read into this work, a criticism of western AID or of the relationship between aid and your 'average'

African, but for Cheri-Cherin in the first case, this is a depiction of how it is. This is how a visit to the doctor really is. The title Consultation, written above in the sky, also keeps the intepretation (and dialogue) open. It can be read as purely descriptive. The consultation is just this, although the overdone caricature suggests this is more than that. Cheri-Cherin, said that his aim here was to create a combination of light heartedness and descripture story-telling.

The work, Kinoiseries partly shown above, is a light-hearted celebration of life in his city, Kinshasa. Kin - refers to this and the rest of the word to the word - assessories. These are the things you see and encounter on a busy street, such as a man holding an alligator as he crosses the street. It is a celebration of his city and culture.

Le Phenomene de la Sape (The Phenomena of the Yuppie), acrylic on canvas, by Cheri-Cherin, 2003.
This work is a celebration of dressing fashionably and at the same time makes fun of this. The work below takes a similiar stance. It seems at first instance to be a criticism and then if you look longer, you see that it is more satire than social commentary. The figures on the conveyor-belt tongue are moving into the tunnel-mouth of the lion. It is a fact that African professionals are leaving for the West, and the twist is in the lion (an African native) a symbol for many Hollywood-made films. So the lion's mouth can also be read as being about a seduction for an Americanized life-style.
La fuite des Cerveaux (The Brain Drain), acrylic on canvas, by Cheri-Cherin, 2004.

In Kinshasa, Cheri-Cherin said, there is no bias in art because there are no dealer galleries and no support for art!

He started out painting any and everything, from street and shop signs to drawings of streets. In 1990 he was invited to participate in a group exhibition in the French culture centre after a French diplomat came across his paintings and signs on shop walls. It was a break for him as the exhibition which also included, Moke, one of the leaders of the Popular Art movement, as well as some French painters, led to his work being known.

In 1994 Cheri-Cherin participated in the first exhibition of the Popular Art movement. It was organized by a cultural organization and Cheri-Cherin won the first prize, a golden paintbrush!

Now he lives from the sales of his paintings via foreign galleries.
He was in The Hague for a month on a Prins Claus Cultural Fund grant in connection with his exhibition in Gallery Art Korner and his residency in the Vrije Academie.

Cour des Grands (The grand court), acrylic on canvas, by Cheri-Cherin, 2004.

Here animals sit like people or people sit like animals. It is a meeting of political leaders, each with their symbols of power or totems. The references are general and international rather than to specific individuals. Each element in the painting tells a story such as the bird on the book, which is a reference to the American eagle on the bible symbol for justice. Here the bird is nondescript as is the book.

You can contact Cheri-Cherin in French at:

For information about sales of Cheri-Cherin's work contact:

The text on this page is the result of an interview with the artist with translation from the French by Bastiaan Körner in Gallery Art Korner in The Hague in October 2004.

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