Figurative painter and fellow Cameroonian Ludovic Nkoth joins me via Zoom. He’s currently in Paris for a 10-month residency at L’Académie des beaux-arts. We’re discussing culture shock and our experiences as third-culture kids, having both spent a large portion of our formative years away from Cameroon. “The way it shows up in my work is through displacement. Many of the figures I paint visually don’t look like they belong in the spaces they are painted in,” Nkoth, 28, explains. “You can feel the psychology embedded in the figures. My figures are not calm; you can tell they are not calm even when they are in positions of rest.”
It’s apparent Nkoth’s nomadic lifestyle has shaped how he situates himself within the contexts of the spaces he inhabits. It’s formed fissures in his conceptualization of home, raising questions around belonging, isolation, and the Black Atlantic. Gearing up for his second solo show in Los Angeles next year at François Ghebaly, he’s researching historically Black families to understand the nuances of family dynamics. “I’m very interested in how these figures move within the context of their families, and how that affects the next generation. I am trying to bring forth traditions and cultural knowledge that only existed on the African continent for many years but have been borrowed for profit by everybody else. I want to tell these stories through an African lens."
His 2020 self-portrait Holding On To Hope depicts the artist fully nude, his body contorted into a fetal position and pressed against a cold white floor, elucidating his feelings about the expectations placed on Black men to present as conventionally masculine. “We aren’t raised to be vulnerable,” he states contemplatively. “Everytime we take a breath it’s expected to be a ‘man’s’ breath. With my work, I’m asking how we can reframe Black masculinity. We’ve been objectified for so long.”
The decision to undertake this residency in Paris—the epicenter of Cameroon’s former colonizer—was no mistake; it has allowed him to spend time dissecting the history of post and pre-colonial relations between the two nations. Sitting back in his chair, he stares at a wall of recent works, then excitedly reveals that after years of conjuring memories and digging into family archives for inspiration, he plans to begin staging photographs and mapping out contemporary manifestations of Blackness through his own lens. However, for now, he’s laser-focused on his spring 2023 solo show in LA. “It’s about staying on the path, staying curious, and being willing to be uncomfortable."