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.
These circumstances led to many moments of solitude that allowed me to dive deeper at a very young age. I started realizing what truly mattered to me and these things are still very present in my life today. The more I was exposed to the outside world the more my sense of identity started to take form. This also came at a time when I realized that I was black and that the color of my skin was how this country defined me.
Ludovic Nkoth in his studio, 2020, (This image and header image courtesy of Javier Romero)
UL: What do you make of the recent developments regarding racial injustices in the United States? Do you tend to lean towards supporting more active or passive modes of protest?
LN: I would say I support protesting and standing up for what is right in general. When the oppressors are not listening nor creating change is when the form of protest has to be more active. As MLK said ‘A riot is the language of the unheard’.
The things we are protesting are the same things generations before us protested, that alone paints the bigger picture. This systematic oppression and brutality is nothing new. The only thing that is new about it is that it’s being documented and shown to the world.
Holding on to Hope, Ludovic Nkoth, 2020, Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 152 x 122 cm
UL: Can you talk a little about the power of art as a mode of protest? Your work can be politically and racially charged, what role do you see art and artists of colour playing in the current and future battle against racial injustice?
LN: I should start by saying I don’t believe it is the job of artists of color alone to fight for racial injustice. This is something everyone should be fighting for. In this case all creatives.
Artists should use their platforms to educate those in need. In my case, my work being political is a direct reflection of some of the experiences I’ve lived as a black man in this world. I always aim to shine a light on things that may not be immediately visible to the rest of the population. I’ll always fight for what I know is right.
Suspect #2, Ludovic Nkoth, 2020, Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 152 x 122 cm
UL: You recently exhibited as part of Destinee Ross Sutton’s BLACK VOICES/BLACK MICROCOSM group show in Stockholm, how excited are you by this particular group of young black artists?
LN: The exhibition was beautifully curated and it was such an honor showing work alongside these amazing artists. In my opinion, the show was a conversation starter. I don’t think a comparable show had ever taken place in Sweden before. I received countless emails from visitors expressing how meaningful this show was for them and especially for people of color from there. Representation is very important and this is the first time many of them felt seen at an art exhibition of that calibre.
UL: Could you finish by talking a little about the wonderful work you submitted to our upcoming online charity exhibition Drawn Together?
LN: The piece is a watercolor and ink on paper titled “2 Months.” The painting depicts a small room that I turned into a studio at my parent’s home in South Carolina where I was staying for two months due to COVID-19. In that studio, I always sat in a specific corner before I started each piece. This was my “thinking” corner and a safe zone. I could also look past the door and feel connected to everything that was happening outside. A part of me felt like this was important given the novelty of the situation. In some ways, it felt as if I was running away and hiding in my studio to stay safe from the virus but I also wanted to keep the door open to make my family feel invited. I decided to leave any human figures out of the painting based on the fact that I was pretty much avoiding seeing people.
2 Months, Ludovic Nkoth, 2020, Watercolour, Markers and ink on paper, 61 x 46 cm