Interview By Danny Dunson, Artx
New York based artist Ludovic Nkoth’s work is heavily informed by life events which led him to move from his native home of Cameroon to the United States when he was 13. Leaving his birth-family and siblings, he found solace and comfort in the creative process while being raised primarily as “a stranger in a strange land”. It wasn’t until he migrated to the United States that he began to reconsider his own culture as a catalyst to locate his identity.
For Ludovic, who learned to speak English as a teenager in a world completely alien to him, still, at times, he finds himself displaced in his adopted country. In the US he is viewed as an African, but in Africa, he is viewed American—leaving the passionate young artist in a sort of ambiguous and cyclical displacement of identity. Given the contentious issues of identity, patriotism, Confederate ideologies and racial bias growing in the States in this contemporary moment, his paintings that present his perspective become increasingly relevant.
As such, the work presents a complex but highly personal investigation of a very personalized view of Africa; his family history; and the cultures, traditions, and ideas of Africa and its diaspora pre-and post-colonialism. They are approached with a type of naive brusqueness, an immediacy and boldness of color that suggests both a passion and sense of discovery. African symbols such as masks, patterns, and other symbols of identity and culture remain consistent throughout.
Throughout history, artists have painted, sculpted and photographed members of their families for the same reasons we photograph ours today. They have sought to show off or develop their skills using a cheap and convenient model. They have been determined to capture a moment in time, or the essence of an object of their affection. And they have attempted to make a statement, or to explore their identity. Here we look at nine artists who, for some or all of these objectives, have turned their gaze on those closest to them.
Sunday (2020) by Ludovic Nkoth
‘Painting family members allows me to document our roots and our journey for the next generation,’ says the Cameroon-born artist Ludovic Nkoth, ‘to understand them and the spaces we occupy in the United States as immigrants and first-generation African-Americans. I’ve always told myself, you’ll never know where you are going if you don’t know where you’re from.’
Born in 1994, Nkoth moved to South Carolina when he was 13, and now lives in New York, where he took an MFA at Hunter College. This portrait of his grandmother was painted specifically for 1:54 (8-10 October 2020). ‘She’s wearing her favourite dress and hat on her way to the Sunday service,’ he says. ‘She always made sure I was in church every Sunday just to give thanks.’
The oldest of four boys, Nkoth has also painted his younger brothers ‘more times than I can count’. ‘Watching them grow up in this country compared to the way I was raised in Cameroon is something I love to document,’ he says.
Class of 2020: five picks from Art Basel's online viewing room - The Art Newspaper
The latest virtual fair, OVR:2020, limits 100 galleries to showing six works each, all produced this year—we pick our highlights.
Another day, another online viewing room. This time, Art Basel’s third virtual fair of the year, OVR:2020, which opens today until 26 September as a replacement for the Swiss fair that was postponed in June and then cancelled altogether due to Covid-19.
Fair organisers have fast learnt that the art is in the edit with online viewing rooms—less is more in the era of digital bombardment. With that in mind, for this version Art Basel has restricted all of the 100 galleries to showing only six works at a time, and all must have been made in 2020.
This year has been a steep virtual learning curve for Art Basel as it seeks to replace all three of its fairs with an online iteration. “We started off trying to recreate the real life fair, with 250 to 280 odd galleries,” says Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s global director. But that is too sprawling and, frankly, dull online.
So the idea with this version is “to check whether something that is tighter in its focus is right for the market right now,” Spiegler says, adding: “It’s also a lot shorter—three and a half days—so it’s less like an attempt to replicate the dynamics of a fair online and more like a cross-pollination between a pop-up store, an auction and a streetwear drop.”
"It’s a way of taking back the power that was taken from us. I find painting powerful." - Ludovic Nkoth for CFHILL
When somebody reports a crime to the police and gives a description of a suspect, the police carries out a police line-up: they round up six people and have the witness look at them through a one-way mirror and identify the person. In a disproportionate number of cases, the description given is a rather laconic one: ‘black male’. This procedure is the inspiration for New York-based artist Ludovic Nkoth’s most recent series. In three paintings, we see a man in three-quarter view. His hair is cut short, and he glances sideways at the viewer. Each of the three paintings has a different background: red, yellow, or blue. And while it’s obvious that the paintings all depict the same person, they also have their own unique character, and the facial expressions range from fearful to aggressive and contemplative. All these shifts are evoked by constellations of paint, applied with a brushstroke that is fluid in places, and anxious in others. The six usual suspects are all one individual, a fact that shines a light on the unpredictable and often deeply racist treatment black men is subjected to by the police in America
Ludovic Nkoth was born in Cameroon in 1994, but moved to the American South in his teens. His experience there came to shape his personality, and by extension his art, which he started working on more or less full time when he was just 13 years old.
In conversation with Ludovic Nkoth - Unit London
Cameroonian born Ludovic Nkoth engages in a visual investigation of his native home; his family history; and the cultures, traditions, and ideas of Africa and its diaspora pre-and post-colonialism. These topics are approached with both a brusqueness and a boldness of color that suggests a passion for discovery. African symbols such as masks, patterns, and other totemes of identity and culture appear throughout his work. He states that through creation, the works attempt to “regain the things that were taking away from [his] people. Things such as power, culture, the idea of self and the idea of being black and proud.” We spoke to Ludovic in the lead up to our online group exhibition Drawn Together.
UL: You arrived in the USA when you were just 13, having left your native home of Cameroon; you were not with your family and spoke no English. Do you remember much of your first weeks/months/years in the country? How did it affect your sense of self, your sense of identity?
LN: I still remember how alienated I felt in those first months in the States. I spent the first few days without eating because my body was refusing to adjust to its new surrounding. As a 13-year-old boy, I was still feeling lost mentally and physically. It took some time to adjust. At the moment all I wanted was to fit in so in a sense I had to reinvent myself to do so. Unfortunately, the language barrier made it difficult to just play and laugh with kids my age which is all I wanted then.
The Cameroonian painter, currently based in South Carolina, talks us through his educational and observational work.
“Creativity was a necessity in Cameroon,” says Ludovic Nkoth, an artist who was born and raised there. With a living space that didn’t provide such things as toys nor objects that would typically keep a child busy, he turned to his playful mind instead. “So, I had to create this alternative reality for myself,” he continues. “I had to create the world I wanted to inhabit; a world where nothing was impossible and my own imagination was my ‘limit’.”
Growing up, Ludovic used his thoughts and creative process to build on these fantastical dreamscapes that blossomed in his mind. Commenting on his upbringing, he notes how it was his grandfather (his mother’s father) that first introduced him to creating. Not so much that he himself was an artist, but more the fact that he showed him the possibilities of what creating could be. “He was the first person I saw creating something that resonated with me with his hands at a very young age,” says Ludovic. “I was always a creative kid, maybe more curious now that I think of it.”