“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.”
Then at the age of 13, Ludovic moved to South Carolina which is where he and his family still reside. A cultural shock, he reminisces of the fact that he was unable to speak the language and how, instead of attending school, he spent his days learning English. “That allowed me to take an introspective journey that confirmed things that were most important for me,” he continues, “and one of them was art.” As such, it was art that gave him a means of expressing himself through drawings, which later evolved into painting.
Using his own experiences as the inspiration for his work, Ludovic’s paintings have a particular observational aspect about them. Those that surround him – such as family and friends – become the subject, where his familial characters sit poignantly in frame among Ludovic’s detailed and textured colour work. Above all, he uses his practice as means of regaining power: “that was taken away from my people by the Western societies when they invaded us and colonised us. I am to regain our voices and shine some light on our culture, our traditions and what these things really mean to us.”
Moments from everyday life have now become his muse. Usually seeking out walks through Harlem to find inspiration, “by the fabric shops or just the community”, he points out the moment he’d revisited Cameroon a few years ago as one that had a lasting impact on himself, his craft and his stories. He also enjoys flicking through old family photo albums, as he sometimes meets new family members this way – “at times they slowly make their way into my work,” he adds, explaining how he adores talking to his parents about their experiences. “They love to help with research, ha!”
While in the process of making, a glass of red and the perfect soundtrack becomes vital for energising his methodology. “Once I know what I’m going to be working on, I go straight to the canvas and we dance,” he says. “I call it a dance because while working on these pieces I’m moving at a fast pace to the rhythm of the music. It allows my instincts to just take over and not overthink my next moves.”
Ludovic runs through a recent piece called Holding onto Hope, devised during the pandemic at home. A self-portrait, it connotes the experiences of being in confinement and the realities of the current climate – something he’s still experiencing as we have this discussion. “The idea was to visually show how it feels to be a Black man in America,” he adds. “I wanted to express the fear, frustration and anxiety the most of us experience due to the racism present in our society. The other narrative presented in this piece is what I felt during my time isolated and confined during the pandemic.” Constructed from acrylic paint and sand, he notes how there are elements of fear, discomfort and pain that are being alluded to in this piece.
Hoping his audience will observe his work as a tool for education, Ludovic will be happy knowing that his pieces do indeed serve as an important conversation starter – “thus resulting in the viewer learning about my people, our traditions and their meanings,” he says. “Historically, Western societies have stripped us from our beliefs and our ways of life, and they have told the world that our traditions were devil-like and should be eliminated. I hope that through my practice I can teach viewers new ways of looking and understanding the meanings of our culture, keeping it alive and regaining our power.”
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.