By confronting viewers with these bodies, turned into tools for a capitalistic economy, Jean David Nkot invites them to face the violence standing behind mining. He underlines the underlying economic, political and environmental motifs.
Jean David Nkot’s work puts forward the invisible figures of the market economy. He recalls the fight between bodies over the territory. If he dedicates his large-scaled portraits to representing those whose work serves a consumption society with endless needs, the Cameroonian artist extends his research on ore extraction started in 2020 and leads a scientific work inspired by an archaeological approach. Whilst archaeology focuses on dead bodies and items from past civilisations buried underground, Jean David Nkot conducts what he callsarchéologie des corps (archeology of the bodies). Doing so, he explores and documents the life trajectory of people working under the ground, seeking the ores that will give life to the technological goods distributed over the world.
In his solo show Les pommes de la discorde, the motif of the car battery – as it gathers different minerals – embodies what Jean David Nkot calls the Contemporary Apple of Discord. The artist links the ores and the bodies he presents as objects of contemplation. He magnifies their strength and resilience defying their instrumentalisation. By confronting viewers with these bodies, turned into tools for a capitalistic economy, Jean David Nkot invites them to face the violence standing behind mining. He underlines the underlying economic, political and environmental motifs.
The body of work featured in Les pommes de la discorde bears witness to a thematic and technical progression. Nkot studies new artistic paths between mannerism and baroque. Each canvas plays with light and framing to convey a different emotion and propose a new approach to its subject. This aesthetic, free and not controlled, reflects the artist’s engagement. It also translates the social, economic and political context in which his fight for the recognition of those working under the ground is anchored.
Jean David Nkot starts from the Greek myth - introduced by Homer in his Iliade - of the Apple of Discord, said to have provoked the Trojan War - and makes it the metaphor for the issues underlying the ore extraction on the African continent. He challenges who benefits from these natural resources and what is the real price of their extraction in terms of human and natural capital. Like the one that caused a historical war, this apple comes with consequences and reveals the limits of an economy based on the exploitation of raw materials. Thus, Nkot denounces the domination system that rules the modern world, where economic interests are more important than respect for human lives and nature. Despite the constant arbitrage between economic value and human value, he calls for the protection of this ecosystem.
The consumers, seduced by the final product - computers, phones, electric cars and other electronic goods, which embody the very notions of technological progress and comfort - ignore their origins and the conditions that make their existence possible. Nkot corrects this lack of visibility and sheds light on the miners through the suffering of the bodies. However, the bodies displayed do not seem to be harmed. In that way, Nkot steers away from Francis Bacon’s and Jenny Saville’s influences, whose tormented bodies inspired his first paintings. The bodies Nkot depicts, suffer more from the inside than from the outside. They face the shocks and internalise the traumas to which they are being exposed. Nkot details: "The body most to be pitied today is the one presented as an ideal body, a healthy body. My bodies have no stigma, but they are the ones that suffer the most."
Dignified, these bodies stand like sculptures. Nkot emphasises their curves and musculature. Reinterpreting a mannerist pictorial tradition, he represents moving bodies, in contradiction to a fixed body, until he entangles them. Through this ensemble of canvases, Nkot progressively turns the bodies into matter. Their roughness and skin tone bring them closer to the rock itself. The blue bodies echo, hence, the cobalt. While the ores are exploited, the bodies are themselves exhausted, depleted of their own energy. They carry in them the critical gaze of the artist who makes a parallel between the overexploitation of human beings and natural resources in a globalised system, led by overconsumption of manufactured goods.
While he adorns the bodies with writings - advertising slogans, chemical symbols or documentary narratives - Nkot testifies to the scars the mining industry leaves on the bodies. In his series of three canvases showcasing a young boy next to a car battery, he addresses the efforts of companies to produce ‘cleaner’ goods. He ironically notices that these efforts finally deplete natural resources more than they save them. Thus, Nkot invites his viewers to remain careful regarding commercial speeches promoting a ‘greener’ consumption. He denounces a misleading ecology and compares the prices of electric cars to the salaries of those who extract the elements used to produce these cars, pointing out the enormous gap that is appearing.
Ultimately, if the body is at the centre of this new ensemble, the map, even if discrete, marks it from its print, in the continuity of the work of the artist. Sometimes composed of two different layers - the first one, topographical, refers to the territory; and the second one, inspired by city maps, signifies the community built where the mines are situated. The skin merges with the territory to showcase the impact of one on the other, as well as the close links bonding them.
In Les pommes de la discorde, the body, at the heart of the canvas, carries the suffering linked to the depletion of natural resources. The body is at the same time the matter and the tool used to answer the needs of an economy where overconsumption is a norm. This new body of work is about meeting those who evolve underground looking for precious stones. In this way, the artist contributes to documenting his time and plunges viewers between the upper and the under, on the steps of these heroes who make the modern economy possible.