National Geographic : 2013 Sep
Kinshasa 107 Yamamoto pants! El Paso boots! My Kassamoto cap is worth 455 euros!” And so on, until it somehow came out that in addition to being a committed s ap e u r, or fashionista—“When I die, my clothes will be buried with me”—Dario had studied at Kinshasa’s Academy of Fine Arts. “I’ve been painting since I was ten,” he told me. Dario’s paintings are irrepressible and dreamy and wistful all at once. They evoke cluttered street scenes and the solitary toil of daily life— a Sisyphean yet exuberant cityscape, one that has produced some of Africa’s greatest artists. Many of them—the painters Pierre Bodo and Chéri Samba, musicians Papa Wemba and Koffi Olomide, sculptors Bodys Isek Kingelez and Freddy Tsimba, to name a few—are known around the world. Dario himself may never be. Still, this is his life’s commitment, to find beauty in struggle. I ask him to paint something for me, and describe what I have in mind. We agree on a price, which includes a hundred dollars up front for painting supplies. I hand him the cash, which he discreetly tucks into a Bible on his shelf. “I don’t have money,” he says. “But people like me are never discouraged. We’re fighters. We die with honor.” Behold the city of art. Kinshasa seethes like primordial ooze across a 250-square-mile patch Renowned painter Chéri Chérin enlists his apprentice, Mokoko, to hold up a lantern so he can work at night; most of Kinshasa regularly loses electrical power after dark.