Liberian-British artist Lina Iris Viktor’s first UK major solo exhibition is currently showing at Autograph in East London until January 25th, 2020. With over 60 pieces of the artist’s original work spread throughout two levels of the gallery, this is an immersive experience whereby the viewer is invited to explore a synergistic melange of work in which cultural symbolism coexists with ancestral spiritualism, where genesis and creation tread side-by-side with new ideas and innovation, and where presupposition is reconfigured and reassembled within the frame to challenge the way we may perceive it.
‘The way we think about darkness, it’s ominous- you only need to look at the Webster dictionary to see that…’
Lina Iris Viktor
In applying both traditional and unconventional artistic methods to present her work- which encompasses painting, photography and sculpture, Viktor’s simple but effective use of black and gold as a motif is proof that the two possess much deeper, intrinsic meaning to us than color alone. Situated in gallery 1, her series of works entitled Dark Continent further explore this notion. Here the artist volunteers as her very own muse; the various images we see of her striking and powerful yet equally vulnerable, as she gazes out through the flora and ferns from her surroundings that are draped in sumptuous black. Accentuated by the textured addition of 24-karat gold leaf (which is applied using traditional gilding methods), the mineral adds a vibrant lustre to the work, whilst captivating our eye with a sense of wonder and mystique, alluding to society’s divergent perception of black as a color, as a culture and as a conscious state of being.
‘Lina Iris Viktor’s magnificent work centres the black figure as the universal human form through which narratives are weaved, histories entwined and possible futures imagined.’
– Renée Mussai (Curator)
Passing through the centre of the gallery and through the large-scale carved wooden installation, it’s hard not to be moved by the webbed latticed panels of The Black Ark that one finds themselves quite literally caught between. With it’s intricate design inspired from the nets of Liberian fisherman, this piece conjures ideas of race, history and identity, whilst interacting with- and in some cases even obscuring the artist’s next collection. This, I learn later is Viktor’s precise intention; or to make these works, in her words: ‘at once visible and obfuscated’.
The addition of Constellations IX; a large, labyrinthine piece of ornately gilded gold on canvas is an exploration of the artist’s fascination with coded language and symbolism, suggesting perhaps our innate ability to communicate on an abstract level. The work incorporates an intricate network of textured shapes and patterns, some resembling astrological and mythological symbols reminiscent of past glorious civilisations, this all in striking 24-karat gold leaf that rises off the jet-black matte canvas. This work in particular was produced exclusively for the exhibition, and is being exhibited to the public for the first time.
In Materia Prima, the project that inspired Viktor’s Dark Continent series, three variations of work combine elements of Ancient Egyptian and African folklore with Renaissance-style portraiture to present the artist here as black deity, the figure in the frame possessing a commanding sense of majestic and faculty.
‘…every single one of Viktor’s sumptuous works is layered with profound provocations on history and culture, fueled by her astute interest in etymology, astrophysics, and remedial recovery’.
-Renée Mussai (Curator)
The moment one steps into the ultramarine blue walls of gallery 2 they would be hard-pressed not to feel a sense of introspective calm, as once again the artist triumphs in demonstrating the deep-rooted power that color wields over our senses. Like looking out over the Atlantic, the mood here is a contemplative one, as Viktor’s aim was to emulate her own studio space, aptly named the ‘Blue Room’.
With each of the artist’s 4 large canvases in gallery 2 evenly dispersed (or rather given it’s own mediative space), there is something tangible in the intimacy of being one-on-one with these bold works, as I was fortunate enough to experience firsthand on my visit.
In particular, Viktor’s figurative 2015 canvas, entitled Syzygy, possesses a mystical charm that conjures romantic images of the ancient land of Kemet, of Timbuktu, and of the kingdom of Sheba. The origin of the word syzygy- I was to discover later, is an astronomical term used to describe a straight-line configuration of three or more celestial bodies in a gravitational system. This sent my mind roaming over concepts of ancestral lineage, of roots and heritage, and of cultural identity.
In what seems to resonate as the underlying thread behind much of the work that is on show in this exhibition, Viktor’s 3 other canvases for A Haven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred are inspired by the wealth of historical and mythological knowledge that the artist has accumulated over the years. Here she draws upon another classic figure of antiquity, the Libyan Sybil, placing herself as the subject in the frame once again upon a vibrant backdrop of crimson red and majorelle blue. The visual juxtaposition here between African and western imagery suggest conflicted ideas on culture, migration, and colonialism.
It was only after I had been so captivated and enchanted by the array of work on display for Some are Born to Endless Night-Dark Matter that I later discovered in an earlier interview with the artist that it wasn’t until as recent as 2013 that she had created her first artwork. There is indeed something magical in the very thought that what you see on display here had been waiting all those years to see the light. I’d encourage you to go out and see this wonderful free exhibition for yourself, for I suspect that you will be hearing more from Lina Iris Viktor in the coming years.
Lina Iris Viktor
Some are Born to Endless Night – Dark Matter
Showing until 25th January, 2020
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Article written for Chrom-Art London