Ludovic Nkoth’s vibrant paintings reflect on migration

Cameroon-born, New York-based Ludovic Nkoth uses acrylic paint to strike a balance between abstraction and figuration

Ludovic Nkoth painting of person reclining
Ludovic Nkoth pays tribute to his family history in his rich works
(Image credit: Ludovic Nkoth)

Cameroon-born, New York-based Ludovic Nkoth uses acrylic paint to create bold and vibrant artworks with immense spontaneity, striking a balance between abstraction and figuration. 

In Nkoth’s work, elegant brushstrokes are manifested in well-patterned lines, expressing the artist’s curiosity and his yearning for a conversation about his experience, or the similar experience of others. 'When I meet people or things I find interest in, I want to have a conversation, understand where they’re from, where they want to go, or what they are going through,' says Nkoth. 'And with a painting, I will sit there with them and try to question these things and figure out the answers or show what they are going through, in hopes that maybe I can see myself within that or someone else can see themselves within that work.'

Ludovic Nkoth: a zeal to stray from the conventional

Ludovic Nkoth paintings in gallery

Installation shot from the François Ghebaly gallery in LA

(Image credit: Ludovic Nkoth)

Nkoth’s paintings pay homage to his family history, Black identity, friends, his native home and its culture, the notion of being an immigrant and the radical ideas of Africa and the effect of colonialism on the continent. Nkoth is also big on rich symbols, conceptualising African masks, rhythmic patterns and totems to drive points about identity. 

But art aside, there is a zeal to stray from conventional things, which is why he traces his inspirations to artists such as Norman Lewis, Charles White, Ed Clark and Edvard Munch. 

Ludovic Nkoth painting in gallery

Installation shot from the François Ghebaly gallery in L.A

(Image credit: Ludovic Nkoth)

The notion of identity frequently recurs in Nkoth’s paintings, which are driven by the politics of place. The artist was born 1994 in Cameroon, where he was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents. At age 13, he moved to South Carolina, USA, to live with his father; and then to New York for graduate school, Spain for art practice, and most recently Paris, where he completed a residency at the Académie des Beaux-Arts x Cité Internationale des Arts. 

Nkoth is constantly questioning the complexities of these cities and how an identity wrapped around him, first as an African, then an African-American and African-European. But being an immigrant defines it all. 'It’s a personal experience, first and foremost, because most of my family went through [it]. I’m an immigrant who came from Cameroon [and] I call America home, but it was a process of figuring out the history of America and that of Cameroon and how I fit within [them]. How did the first people who looked like me arrive here and how did they migrate? How does that history I was never part of still affect my history in this place?' he asks.

 'I lived in Paris for a year during the residency and because I’m francophone, coming from Cameroon, I really have a part of France living within me; again migration. So I look at how I could tell the story in a different light and have this space to have a conversation. As Black people, we’ve been displaced so much; not everyone has the privilege to know their roots. So that’s why I highlight migration.'

Recent shows and collaborations

Nkoth’s solo show, ‘This Is of It’, at the François Ghebaly gallery in Los Angeles in 2023 included stories of other immigrants he’d met, their perception about home and their interest in making space for themselves. 

His recent collaboration with Dior, meanwhile, for the eighth edition of its Dior Lady Art project, was a chance for Nkoth to explore his love for fashion. He is among the latest batch of artists to create a unique take on the Lady Dior handbag (Gilbert & George also interpreted the Lady Dior for this edition of the project; also see the results of the Dior Lady Art #7). The commission saw Nkoth play with sculptural cowrie shells and miniature West African masks to detail elaborate French luxury. 

Last year also saw Nkoth become the first African artist – and only the second living artist – to exhibit at Fondation Le Corbusier’s Maison La Roche in Paris.

Ugonna-Ora Owoh is a journalist and editor based in Lagos, Nigeria. He writes on arts, fashion, design, politics and contributes to Vogue, New York Times, Wallpaper, Wepresent, Interior Design, Foreign Policy and others.