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Lina Iris Viktor

Dark Testament

9) Lina Iris Viktor, Materia Prima I, Courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery © Lina Iris Viktor

Curated by Renée Mussai. An Autograph (London) traveling exhibition presented in collaboration with Fotografiska. Fotografiska Stockholm is proud to present Dark Testament, a stunning and thought-provoking exhibition by British-Liberian conceptual artist Lina Iris Viktor between 25 September 2020–31 January 2021. This immersive, site-specific installation features more than fifty works on paper from Viktor’s evocative Dark Continent series (2016-19), alongside a unique work on canvas entitled Materia Prima I (2016) as well as Black Botanica (2019).

ritualistic use of 24-karat gold leaf

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. Her extra ordinary black and gold works – based on photographs – are infused with complex cultural histories of the global African diaspora, and explore the cultural, historical and material implications and multifaceted notions of ‘blackness’: as colour, value and socio-political consciousness.

In Viktor’s artistic universe, black is conjured as a deeply generative force: “I only see the absolute beauty and depth of black”, the artist states, ‘Black to me is the proverbial ‘materia prima’: the first matter, blackness as source, the dark matter that birthed everything.’ And beauty, in this arresting visual vernacular, ‘is forged from and within a restorative praxis of disavowal, as a radical method of transfiguration’, says curator Renée Mussai.

For Viktor, 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, gold is both symbol and substance, a spiritual conduit of transcendence Viktor routinely deploys her own body in her figurative works, cast as the sole performer in a meticulously crafted cosmologywhere 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 the 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 confronting 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 projection, seen together for the first time.

Also featured in the gallery installation in a discrete gold enclave 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, Exhibition Curator and Senior Curator at Autograph, London.

The way in which Viktor explores temporality in her work creates a visual perspective that feels both reminiscent and brand new. Drawing from old traditions, both culturally and artistically, merged with a futuristic approach lifting contemporary ideas and issues, we can all relate to her work regardless of our own history and background. We are introduced to hidden messages through beautiful images that attract young and old from all walks of life.”Johan Vikner, Exhibition Producer at Fotografiska.·

Quotes by Lina Iris Viktor, excerpted from In Conversation with Renée Mussai, entitled “Dark Sublime – The Value of Blackness” published in Lina Iris Viktor: Some Are Born to Endless Night—Dark Matter (Autograph, 2019)

“I only see the absolute beauty and depth of black… Black to me is the proverbial ‘materia prima’: the first matter, blackness as source, the dark matter that birthed everything...”
...In a lot of my works I use black and gold exclusively. All the colours in the spectrum exist in white, and the extremity of white is black; light and dark are kin to one another. I’m interested in dualities and polarities: the most extreme hot, the most extreme cold; black and white. And everything that exists within them as part of the wider colour spectrum. I don’t see them as colours, but as values, as the negation or absorption of light. So those two are the parents, the mothers, of the entire colour spectrum. The two polarities that have birthed all. To me, the relationship between black and gold is a very natural conversation ... they are siblings, if you will. And gold, while we attribute it as a colour, is obviously a metal. Gold is a mythical, magical, singular material.<br /> <br /> I feel that I have a mandate as an artist to not only make things that resonate with people on an aesthetic level, but also to address socio political conversations that are epistemic in people’s consciousness, to try and negotiate those ideas, to reconsider how we negotiate blackness. To ignore is not a luxury we can afford.


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 fusion 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 Some Are Born To Endless Night — Dark Matter, Autograph, London (2019-20); 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; Spelman College of Fine Art, Atlanta;
Autograph, London; and many private collections worldwide. Her first hard cover monograph Some Are Born To Endless Night —Dark Matter was published by Autograph in 2019, with an expanded second edition forthcoming in spring 2020. She is represented by Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Chicago.