Interview x Neals Niat
Born in Paris, relocated to Douala (Cameroon) and now living as an architect-artist in Belgium, Neals Niat confesses he, “has been drawing since childhood”. After having spent the most formative years of childhood in Douala, memories of life in Africa continue to permeate his artistic and architectural practice whilst in Brussels.
Nourished by both French and Cameroonian cultural knowledge, Niat seeks to share this cultural wealth with a wider audience by iterating an ever evolving body of work. Through monochromatic, bold and relevant imagery the architect-artist has been able to develop a contemporary and sensitive creative language merging not only the boundary between art and architecture, but also Africa and the West.
Having just exhibited his latest project, two books published by Manufactoriel at the New York art book fair MoMA PS1, and a collaboration with iconic Dutch brewing company Heineken, Neals Niat speaks to us about what he hopes to achieve with a continuously developing body of work.
Hi Neals, can you begin by telling us a little about your background and yourself, and where you are currently based?
I'm an Artist- Architect, born in Paris but my parents are from Cameroon. At seven years old my family and I moved to Douala where we spent eight years. I'm currently living and working in Brussels (Belgium).
How would you describe who or what influences you most? In particular, your cultural influences and Cameroonian heritage?
I think Black/African culture, and especially Cameroonian culture have always been a big source of inspiration for me especially on an architectural, graphic, and visual level. Personally, I see my work as a way to communicate the memories of a dynamic and creative Africa, that is often times not circulated in foreign media. It is also a way for me to share the memories of my childhood in Cameroon.
How does your Cameroonian heritage fuse with your new experience in Brussels, especially when considering your artwork? Do you think the influence of these two cultures impacts your creative process, or your wider world view?
These two cultures definitely impact my creative process, therefore my work is the result of the influences of these two cultures merging. These include my memories from childhood in Cameroon and the training and experience I received as an architect here in Brussels.
All my work examines the integral part of: the story between the lines. This is a continuous project to which I add, remove, improve elements and enrich, with the idea being that in several years I’ll be able to gather all the works to form one great work. I like to define my practice as an architectural project, which means, in perpetual evolution, always growing, changing and improving over time.
Since my work is based on story telling I try to share my memories from Cameroon through a medium / movement/ concept of representation located between the graphic, sensory, architecture and visual space that I have baptised the: Visual Metaphor Monochromatic.
Considering creatives today are heavily invested in establishing an online presence, how
important do you think it is to have an online or social media platform that showcases your work and also yourself?
I think it is important to have an online presence today, especially for creatives.
It is easier for an artist to be known by showcasing his works (this can be seen through the success of artists who have become famous via social media). But you should also be aware that if this allows you to quickly reach a wider audience, it also opens you up to quickly becoming a victim of plagiarism.
What is the main subject matter you’re currently dealing with, and how do you think this
interacts with youth or popular culture?
My heritage is tied to the context in which I live. This Western context has a lack of representation of the black individual in visual art.
This is why my work is directly related to this issue I have identified, and therefore explores the presence and representation of the black individual in plural contexts.
How do you see yourself and your work moving forward? What themes and topics would you
like to explore and how do you open this up to a wider audience?
When I see the evolution of techniques and means of artistic and visual representation today, I think that in the future the digital will take precedence over the illustration itself. In the course of my work, the arrival of virtual / augmented reality may in the future be able to imagine projects in which the individual interacts with my work, moving from being a spectator to an actor in my work/story.
…and what’s in store for the future? Are there any important collaborations or campaigns you are working on?
I have recently worked on two artist books published by Manufactoriel that were recently exhibited at MoMa during the New York art book fair from 21-23 September.
One is Exode Rural: Namjù which means « see you tomorrow » in medumbà, a bamileke language. In form of a A1 blueprint this artwork is a fictional tale that advocates the story of a young chief who leaves his grass-field village to reach urbanity to live his American Dream. Thus beginning his journey into beingness. In this book I highlight the aporia of transmission in a changing society that is devoid of symbolic landmarks.
The second is called Life Scenes in which I explore the ties between camfranglais, a popular language used in Cameroon and its tangibility, through illustrations. It is a matter of capturing the image of that language's geography to produce in a playful way, a visual linguistic.
The two books are part of the project “The Story Between the Lines”
And the other project I can't talk much about for the moment, but all I can say is it will be an important textile collaboration which I'm really excited about!