Human@Condition: Jean David Nkot

27 May - 7 July 2021
The aesthetics and composition of the works presented in Human@Condition are pure and play with transparency, in a need to discover the essential. Their construction, based on analysis, is more complex. Soon, a network of information and data - that Jean David Nkot connects between them - superimposes on the cartography.

A painter of the human condition, Cameroonian Jean David Nkot’s work is easily recognisable, with his hyperrealist portraits over mapped backgrounds. Whilst he has focussed on the sorrow of his characters, it is time for them to be redeemed.


Through his monographic exhibition Human@condition, he frees his portraits from the weight of their history and emphasises their struggle, rather than their pain. The very notion of resilience runs through this new body of work. He studies how the bodies manage to be integrated within a space that is not favourable to them. He is interested in the moments of joy and captures the smiles behind the suffering. He calls for neither pity nor compassion and praises the abnegation and strength of the anonymous people he paints.


For a while, Jean David Nkot used migration as a vice to depict the human condition. The artist now represents it through the topic of mining. Data analysis is at the centre of his work. The network of information that emerges and is superimposed on the cartography recalls the methods of investigation. Following the narrative structures explored by American artist Mark Lombardi in the 1990s, Jean David Nkot notes, annotates, links and questions. The map usually schematises a geographical reality by representing it on a smaller, simplified and ranked scale. It actively participates in the narrative. From one canvas to another, Nkot plays with its composition. It then becomes a land of experimentation. If it remains mostly figurative, he explores new artistic avenues through his series www.look of hopes He applies a silk-screened map on the original lines. Putting aside any geographical realism, the data adorning the cartography is more important than the territories displayed. Imaginary, the map intrigues. When seeing this coloured pattern, the "what?" replaces the "where?”. Quickly, the information takes over, the same way it imposes itself on the portrait represented. Jean David Nkot's maps offer a better understanding of the contemporary world by highlighting its economic and political stakes.


If he portrays those he calls the "creuseurs de sous-sol" (the sub-soils diggers), he becomes a digger himself. He digs deep into the information to reveal its hidden meaning. The aesthetics and composition of the works presented in Human@Condition are pure and play with transparency, in a need to discover the essential. Their construction, based on analysis, is more complex. Soon, a network of information and data - that Jean David Nkot connects between them - superimposes on the cartography. Inspired by the maps of Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn, he creates what he calls maps molécules. Thomas Hirschhorn elaborates personal maps to tell stories. He displays his ideas and inspirations as if he opened his creative laboratory to the public. Jean David Nkot takes up the appearance of these maps. By circling and linking key ideas, he puts his maps molécules at the service of history. He details and analyses the data related to mining. Keywords and numbers are tied to each other without any apparent coherence, caught in a structure reminiscent of molecules and atoms. Dates, quantities, prices, ores, countries and economic plans coexist. Echoing the political and strategic dimension of maps, Jean David Nkot diverts them and touches on what the French writer and theorist Guy Debord called psychogeography. The map then becomes subjective and wears personal elements offering new reading avenues. Sometimes, as in BP. Cassiteri / Jeux de, question marks punctuate the whole. Jean David Nkot questions the figures. What about the artisanal exploitation of ores? The artist invites thought: how can these different elements generate a debate on a specific subject? It is up to the informed visitor to solve the puzzle whose pieces Jean David Nkot skilfully spreads; to understand what is hidden. He mocks the very transparency of data: does the prevalence of this data in the works truly make it clearer – and stronger? Or does its meaning remain obscure, only to fall short of a resilient, fierce humanity?


The thematic approach adopted by Jean David Nkot is above all, economic. He highlights how African countries are prisoners of their own wealth. How other countries control them and how local populations suffer. Thus, the term PPTE (HIPC) appears at the centre of several canvases. This initiative for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries was jointly launched in 1996 by the most industrialised countries, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. While Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Senegal have emerged from the debt spiral and reached their completion point, a 2018 Standards & Poor’s report suggested that the initiative failed. Jean David Nkot notes the irony of this designation: "We talk about Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, but the sub-soils of these countries are very rich." 


He mainly focuses on the main issues raw materials embody in Africa. To that extent, his canvases depict those whose work is to extract the ores, those who remain when the natural resources are extracted and sold abroad. He sheds light on these workers in the shadows and cares about the resilience of these bodies triumphing on the hostile territory. He explains: “I looked to the young people in my neighbourhood as models for both my art and broader existence. As a witness each day of their vitality and joy, I wanted to push away common depictions of sorrow and suffering, instead shedding light on their strength and sense of hope, showing smiles and firm postures to expose a resilient body, undeterred by difficulty.” The mismanagement of mineral resources by states stands behind this resilience. There is a contrast between what is happening and how young people always find a way to cope, despite everything.


Thus, far from a miserable discourse, Human@Condition recalls and transcribes the proud attitude and the moments of togetherness between the people depicted by Jean David Nkot. Confronting personal stories, economic data and geopolitical norms, he does not lose sight of the human aspect. The portraits he makes are a way to illustrate abstract figures and to put a face on the situation in the mines. Who are these people who work there? What is their daily life? Which countries are involved? He shows the global scope of a situation that is nonetheless localised: the extraction of minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, by highlighting all the actors involved. He questions where the raw materials extracted in Africa go and who benefits from them. He regrets the exploitation of the soil by human beings, whilst underlining the strength of those who fight every day for a better life in an adverse environment.