Autograph's 2020 hardcover monograph published to accompany Lina Iris Viktor's exhibition Some Are Born To Endless Night — Dark Matter, edited by curator Renée Mussai, has won the 2021 British Book Awards in the Exhibition Catalogue category. To celebrate, we are sharing highlights from our acclaimed exhibition here.
The British-Liberian artist’s first major solo exhibition in the UK took place at Autograph's gallery in 2019-20, and featured more than 60 works on display across two galleries – many seen for the first time, including a site-specific architectural installation. Viktor's photography, painting and sculptures are infused with cultural histories of the global African diaspora and preoccupied with multifaceted notions of blackness: as colour, as material and as socio-political consciousness. To Viktor, black is the proverbial materia prima: the source, the dark matter that birthed everything.
“Lina Iris Viktor’s magnificent work centres the black figure as the universal human form through which narratives are woven, histories entwined and possible futures imagined ”
— Renée Mussai, Curator
Viktor often deploys her body in her conceptual art practice, the sole performer in a meticulously crafted cosmology. Combining photography, performance, painting and sculpture with ancient gilding techniques, she creates intricate, densely layered surfaces characterised by her ritualistic use of 24-karat gold leaf. The exhibition reflected the artist and curator’ shared desire to create an all-immersive, symbiotic environment, in which to engage viewers and provide a transformative experience.
Viktor’s large works on paper and canvas draw on a variety of artistic traditions and visual influences, from European portraiture, classical mythology and astronomy, to ancient Egyptian and African symbolism.
The works displayed in the first gallery were exclusively black and gold, ranging from small works on paper to large-scale canvas works – many made exclusively for the exhibition and seen for the first time.
The figure is the artist’s own form, her body shrouded in deep, matt black paint, her hair golden; at times contemplative and elusive, at other times provocative and alluring. These works represent an imaginary riposte to imperial narratives of empire and expansion, and the nineteenth-century myth of Africa as the ‘dark continent’.
"At the core of Lina Iris Viktor’s distinctive practice are complex, cultural narratives and potent mediations on blackness and being: every single one of Viktor’s sumptuous works is layered with profound provocations on history and culture, fuelled by her astute interest in etymology, astrophysics and remedial recovery."
— Renée Mussai, Curator
In 2019, Autograph commissioned four new unique works on paper by the artist for the exhibition Some Are Born To Endless Night — Dark Matter. Entitled Dark Testament, they form part of her ongoing Dark Continent series.
These new works have now entered Autograph's collection, which reflects our mission: to use photography and lens based media to explore questions of cultural identity, race, representation, human rights and social justice.
Constellations IX foregrounds the artist’s interest in the coded languages of abstraction. In this elaborately gilded canvas, a maze of signs and intricate imagery alludes to subliminal, universal modes of communication beyond the restrictive boundaries of language, evoking more visceral forms of expression. It was exhibited with a backdrop of artist-designed flora from the Dark Continent series.
Exploring notions of ‘race’, history and ownership, The Black Ark installation obscured some artworks while highlighting others, making them – in the artist’s words – ‘at once visible and obfuscated’. The darkened, tropical foliage of the Dark Continent series reappears here as floor and wall based sculptures (Black Botanica), liberated from the confines of the painted, still image.
The second gallery was painted in deep ultramarine blue, emulating the ‘Blue Room’ in the artist’s former New York studio. An enclosed meditative space was built within the gallery holding only one work: Syzygy, Viktor’s first figurative canvas that reflects the particular aesthetic vernacular the artist developed over four years’ of dedicated practice.
The other three works shown in the ultramarine blue gallery form part of a series that reinterprets the Libyan Sybil, a prophetess from antiquity invoked by eighteenth-century abolitionists as a mythical oracle who foresaw the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The remarkable art works brought together in Some Are Born To Endless Night — Dark Matter constitute a bold reclamation of creative agency, and the crucial praxis of historical and transcultural reimagining. Her most expansive solo exhibition to date, it was a pleasure and a privilege to work closely with one of the most exciting conceptual artists working today to present her work to London.
Lina Iris Viktor lives and works itinerantly between Italy, 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. Often 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’.
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.
Visit Viktor's website and follow the artist on Instagram.
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