BetterShared is a leading platform for emerging artists from Africa and the diaspora. The global art marketplace offers users to discover and shop from a wide selection of prints, paintings and mixed media works. For the month of February, we worked with emerging artist, Neals Niat to design two cards featuring two of his works of art.
Born in Paris from Cameroonian parents, Neals Niat is an architect, and illustrator, based in Brussels. His work, identifiable by the use of monochrome and pastel colours, showcases common urban expressions and scenes of life based on his memories from Cameroon.
The characters in his featured works come from his latest project called “Mapanes Love” in which he digests societal influences and external pressures on romantic relationships through three couples.
Thank you for chatting with us, Neals! We would love to start by hearing a bit about your story and what inspires your art, for those who aren’t already familiar!
I was born in Paris and moved to Cameroon, my parents’ country of origin where I spent 8 years. After high school I pursued architectural studies in Brussels, where I’m currently living. My work is the manifestation of my childhood memories and these memories became my main inspiration.
I try to capture moments dedicated to disappearing in the flood of circumstances constantly evolving in a light and fun way.
All my artworks incorporate elements of memories like old family pictures, life scenes, astringent humor and local jargon referring directly to Cameroonian society but also other elements such as architecture, design, fashion, movies…
Can you share a bit about how your background in architecture and how that has impacted your work?
The architectural influence can be seen across my works, primarily through the anonymity of the characters I draw. My work is directly related to my process as an architect. In fact in architecture, when we represent a space we use black silhouettes, it gives life to the project and helps to apprehend the space. I took this idea and used it in my work. The characters are there to tell the story and define the space. The lack of eyes provides a level of abstraction that allows the viewer to project themselves onto the subject.
I naturally started my journey as an artist with Autocad, a design and architectural software that I was using as an architect, then I moved to Illustrator because I found that I was really restricted with the colors and forms in Autocad.
A thread sewn through all of your work is culture, especially your Cameroonian roots, how does that influence how you paint love?
The series I’ve been working on ‘Mapanes Love’ is the latest episode within a larger project titled ‘Life Scenes’, initiated in 2018. It’s a depiction of reality, a compilation of love stories that highlight some prominent societal dysfunctions in a funny/lighter way. Beyond the visual aesthetics, my intention is to document the attitudes and phrasing of a time that is bound to change.
You can see this project as a way to archive all the Cameroonian expressions and vocabulary, a glossary of sorts, that I’m trying to create as a way of sharing this culture.
Ultimately, my wish is to see people across Africa fully acknowledge the importance of their respective cultures, traditions and native languages. Topics dear to my heart which I bring forth to my audience.
You’ve been working on your project “Life Scenes” since 2018. How has this evolved over time and what excites you most about the series?
Through my project Life Scenes, I tell a story. It’s a continuous project to which I add, remove and improve elements in order to enrich them. It’s a really long process because in order to create a new piece, I need to know first what’s going to be next and that’s the challenging part of my work that I like.
You can see my process like a storyboard in my mind, imaginative scenarios that are transformed into vivid digital drawings.
The finality being to bring together all my artworks in 20-30 years from now and watch a greater narrative unfold. It all began with black and white monochromes because I think black and white images represent memory; it reminds me of old movies, and as I love to tell my childhood stories through my work, it only seemed natural to use black and white, reminiscent of my time spent in Cameroon. Later, I came to explore colors, choosing a pastel palette, giving to my creations a vintage feel that can be seen in photography from the 80’s and 90’s.