Dark Testament is an immersive, site-specific installation by British-Liberian conceptual artist Lina Iris Viktor.
Composed around Viktor's evocative Dark Continent series, the exhibition is an excerpt of Autograph's recent exhibitionSome Are Born To Endless Night — Dark Matter, and includes image projections of new works produced since.
These extraordinary black and gold works – based on photographs – are infused with the cultural, historical and material implications and multifaceted notions of ‘blackness’: as colour, value and socio-political consciousness.
“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
Working with a restricted colour palette combining photography, painting, performance and sculpture with ancient gilding techniques, Viktor creates intricate, densely layered surfaces characterised by her ritualistic use of 24-karat gold leaf.
In Viktor’s artistic universe, black is conjured as a deeply generative force: the proverbial ‘materia prima’, the source, the dark matter that birthed everything. Gold, for Viktor, is both symbol and substance, a spiritual conduit of transcendence. The artist, whose conceptual practice draws on a variety of artistic traditions and visual influences from European portraiture, classical mythology and astronomy, to ancient Egyptian and African symbolism, routinely deploys her own body in her figurative works, cast as the sole performer in a meticulously crafted cosmology where her body-as-canvas is 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.
In Dark Continent, a solitary female figure – shrouded in black paint, her hair golden – inhabits an imaginary monochromatic landscape of silver, grey and black hues, its deep lustrous blackness punctuated by luminous gilded solar/lunar symbols. At times contemplative and elusive, at times provocative and alluring, she occupies each frame seemingly absorbed in her own private reverie, yet occasionally challenges the viewer with a direct gaze, thus breaking the illusion of her isolated existence, and con- fronting inherent voyeurisms with a prophetic sense of foreboding.
This body of work – which comprises Act I, II, III, IV as well Dark Testament and The Seven – represents an imaginary riposte to the nineteenth-century myth of Africa as the ‘dark continent’, a sinister place of danger and chaos. Playing with notions of colonial ‘discovery’, Viktor invites viewers to contemplate the meaning of darkness and light, through a communion of past, present and future tenses and a creative engagement of speculative visual fiction and the birthing of new mythologies. Accompanied by an extended caption-poem of exquisite, redolent image titles, the series’ existential questions remain unanswered.
Throughout the exhibition, the Dark Continent’s tropical foliage is liberated from the confines of the painted still image and presented as black floor-based sculptures and wall stencils entitled Black Botanica (2019). The latest variations in the series subtitled The Seven – the final pieces currently still in production – are included as image projections, seen together for the first time. Also featured is Materia Prima (2016): the ‘mother work’ that inspired the Dark Continent series, and one of Viktor’s earliest large-scale figurative gilded canvas works. Here, Viktor appears as a commanding pan-cultural deity, emanating an aura of power, authority and regality – her body posed against an intricate maze of elaborate signs and symbol, a coded vernacular that alludes to subliminal modes of communication and visceral forms of expression.
The extraordinary works brought together in Dark Testament constitute a bold reclamation of historical and transcultural reimagining, and the creation of all-immersive visual universes and symbiotic environments, in which to engage viewers with a transformative experience, and offer a space for reflection.
“At the core of Lina Iris Viktor’s singular artistic practice are complex, cultural narratives and potent mediations on ‘blackness and being’: each sumptuous work is layered with profound provocations, fuelled by her astute interest in etymology, astrophysics and remedial recovery. In a productive equilibrium between aesthetics and politics, history is creatively reimagined through an emphasis on the circularity of time, and an affirmative, visionary excavation of our collective pasts and possible futures.” - Renée Mussai, Curator.
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).
Since 2014 her work has featured in numerous group exhibitions internationally, including recently Radical Love at Ford Foundation Gallery, New York (2019); Get Up, Stand Up at Somerset House, London (2019); and Re-Significations: European Blackamoors, Africa Readings, Manifesta Art Biennial 12, Palermo, Italy (2018), among others. Viktor was a contributor to the 2019 Spring issue of Harper’s Bazaar.
Her work is held in the public collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC; the Crocker Museum of Fine Art, Sacramento, California; Autograph, London; and many private collections worldwide. She is represented by Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Chicago.
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