British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor creates striking, large-scale artworks characterized by detailed patterning and a vibrant—but strictly controlled—color palette, featuring gilded sections crafted from 24-karat gold.
Living between New York and London, the artist’s most recent exhibition, Lina Iris Viktor: A Haven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred., is currently on show at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Drawing from her previous work, this exhibition offers a view of the past and present simultaneously as it reflects on the founding of Liberia—the first and oldest modern republic of Africa.
The nation was established by the American Colonization Society in 1817, initially imagined as a place where free-born and formerly enslaved Black Americans could be resettled in instead of being emancipated in America. During this period, a mystical figure emerged, borne of the tales of two women combined: The Libyan Sibyl, a prophetess of tragedy from antiquity, and Sojourner Truth, a freed slave and activist. In this series of self-portraits, Viktor references this female figure frequently—collapsing time and space, and offering a narrative that is as much about then as it is about now. Though thoroughly personal, Viktor’s work acts as a strong conversation starter about the politicization of bodies and historical preconceptions surrounding ‘Blackness’.
Viktor sees gold as a “conduit between worlds”, and it is used symbolically in her work to reference both the richness of African culture and the use of the precious metal for ornamentation by ancient civilizations throughout history. By contrast, the black in her work argues against history—for Viktor, it is not a color characterized by absence, but instead by presence. Black is a combination of all colors, and must, therefore, be the richest and most vibrant of them all.
All images © Lina Iris Viktor