The art of Lina Iris Viktor revolves around blackness: the color, the pigment, Africa’s complex colonial legacy, a state of being. She strips it down to midnight darkness; she adorns it with gold; she veils and eroticizes it with screens. “Some Are Born to Endless Night: Dark Matter”—opening next week at Autograph, a gallery in London’s Hackney neighborhood—is Viktor’s first major solo show in the U.K. and features more than 60 works. The full range of the Liberian-English artist’s practice is on view, including the self-portraits that have created such a stir.
Why the excitement? In works from her Dark Continent series, Viktor paints herself black with gold highlights and is photographed; she then prints the image on cotton rag and overlays it with more paint, resin, and 24-karat gold leaf, giving the works a surreal depth of field. In some images, she’s an imperious icon backed by a gold halo; in others, a nymph among shadowy ferns. These forms are echoed in Black Botanica, a series of sculptures within Black Ark, a site-specific installation made from carved wood and inspired by Arabic screened windows and Libyan fishing nets. The effect is an intermingling of the personal and the political, the intimate and the (often painfully) historic.
In her series of more colorful, painted self-portraits titled A Haven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred, her art-historical influences are clear but not derivative: Eleventh, with its sumptuously patterned skirt-and-backdrop combo, looks like a gilded Kehinde Wiley; Third, in which she wears a crown of leaves and berries, plays with the formality of Frida Kahlo’s classical poses. In Syzygy, surrounded by geometric blue and gold, she’s pure Gustav Klimt. From within each piece, Viktor stares out at you, daring you to look away. —Andrea Whittle