Curated by Renée Mussai

Autograph, London
13 September 2019—25 January 2020

Text by Renée Mussai partially excerpted from ‘Visible Darkness’, in Lina Iris Viktor: Some Are Born To Endless Night — Dark Matter, ed. Renée Mussai, published by Autograph, London: 2019.

“A gifted alchemist, Lina Iris Viktor skilfully conjures layers of visible darkness and chromatic nuance: potent mediations on blackness and being, enveloped in a Cosmology of the Dark Sublime where there is no Other, only variations of the One… In a glorious equilibrium between aesthetics and politics, history 
is creatively reimagined through an emphasis on the circularity of time, and affirmative, remedial excavations of our collective pasts. Merging abstraction and figuration with a performative engagement of the self, Viktor’s evocative practice is deeply rooted in the concept of unruly visual pleasure as a politics for refusal — Beauty, in Viktor’s world, is forged from and within a restorative praxis of disavowal, as a radical method of transfiguration.

Viktor’s arresting visual vernacular explores historical, cultural and material implications of ‘blackness’ — as colour, value and socio-political consciousness – through photography, painting, performance, sculpture and the ancient practice of gilding with 24-karat gold.

Her immersive exhibition at Autograph, and accompanying publication, is dominated by polyvalent black opacities, luminescent gold and opulent ultramarine blue hues — brought together in a singular style Viktor describes as ‘minimal decadence’. Throughout, the artist is cast as the sole performer in a meticulously created, artistic universe, her body-as-canvas abstracted through lustres of black and centred as the universal human form: a vessel through which narratives are woven, histories entwined, and possible futures imagined. For Viktor, gold is both symbol and substance, a spiritual conduit of transcendence… with black conjured as ‘the proverbial materia prima: ‘the dark matter that birthed everything’.

Gallery 1 presents Dark Continent (2015–19): fifty-four works on paper, including large-scale variations and a new Artist Commission entitled Dark Testament (2019). An imaginative riposte to nineteenth century myths of Africa as a sinister place of danger, chaos and dis-ease, the series’ darkened, tropical foliage is liberated from the confines of the painted image as floor-based sculptures and wall stencils in Black Botanica (2019). The architectural installation The Black Ark (2018-19) further contemplates colonial histories and politics of ownership — its latticed, modular design inspired by the nets of Liberian fishermen and mashrabiyas — leading to three variations of Materia Prima (2016-19) and Constellations IX (2019): intricate, densely layered canvas works imbued with a maze of coded, labyrinthine symbols alluding to subliminal modes of communication and visceral forms of expression.

Gallery 2 presents the Blue Void: inspired by the artist’s studio in New York, this site-specific installation offers an invitation to experience the unique frequency of ultramarine blue. Shown alongside Viktor’s celebrated first multi-layered figurative work Syzygy (2015) — on display inside the cube room — are three works from the series A Haven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred. (2018): First, Third and Eleventh. Here, Viktor contemplates the notion of lost histories and the complex founding story of Liberia, re-imagining a fraught narrative of migration, colonialism and oppression through the mercurial figure of the Libyan Sybil, a prophetess from antiquity invoked by eighteenth- century abolitionists as a mythical oracle who foresaw the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

To truly appreciate its depths, and textures, and intricacies, Lina Iris Viktor’s art must be experienced in situ: in the flesh. Imagine yourself, moving through the gallery, seduced, subsumed into Lina Iris Viktor’s singular artistic universe… held, tentacularly, in a symbiotic, intertextual embrace by a legion of celestial figures blissfully absorbed in their own private pleasures … infused with cultural histories of the global African diaspora.”

Renée Mussai, Curator

More information

All works © Lina Iris Viktor.
All images: Courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery unless otherwise stated.

The Exhibition

Lina Iris Viktor

Lina Iris Viktor lives and works itinerantly between New York and London. Raised in London to Liberian parents, she travelled extensively in her youth, and also lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, for several years. Viktor’s multifaceted practice is informed by a background in theatre and film at Sarah Lawrence College, New York, and her continued studies in photography and design at The School of Visual Arts, along with an education in performance arts during high school. Working with a restricted colour palette, her artworks are a blend of photography, performance and abstract painting, along with the ancient practice of gilding with 24-karat gold to create increasingly dark canvases embedded with ‘layers of light’.

Selected solo exhibitions include A Heaven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred, NOMA, New Orleans (2018); The Black Ark, The Armory Show, Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, New York (2018); Black Exodus: Act 1 – Materia Prima, Amar Gallery, London (2017); Arcadia, Gallery 151, New York (2014).