“Usually I am more about trying to bridge divides of thought where people think things are in very defined spaces,” artist Lina Iris Viktor tells Harper’s Bazaar Arabia from her studio in New York. “I am all about making bridges.” The painter and conceptual artist is preparing new work for her first solo museum exhibition now open at the New Orleans Museum of Art entitled Lina Iris Viktor: A Haven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred.
Known for large-scale black and gold works on paper and canvas, the sculptural surfaces of Viktor’s pieces shimmer opulently with densely patterned iconography. There is something searingly original and contemporary about her almost cosmic composition of hieroglyphic elements that recall myriad forms, from Aboriginal Dreamtime paintings to West African textiles.
Born to Liberian parents, Lina Iris Viktor lives in London and Johannesburg, travelling and studying widely. The artist is not inspired by a specific location. Rather “It’s about experience and worldliness and understanding that there is no centre.”
Building on her education in London, one that included studies in theater and performance, with early acting and singing classes, Viktor came to New York to study film at Sarah Lawrence College while acquiring a background in photography and design from the School of Visual Arts. As a result, Viktor has developed a unique, multidisciplinary practice.
One distinctive aspect of the artist’s work is her adaptation of an ancient method of water gilding 24-carat gold leaf, which she applies to surfaces prepared using various resins and primers in order to create, in her words, “a sculptural landscape” and “topography to each work.”
The results are breathtaking. Each piece is a painstaking, undertaking involving many meticulously planned stages, with a large-scale piece taking approximately three months to complete. For her unflinching figurative pieces, Viktor selects her costume, applies makeup and them photographs herself. The result is that the artist’s image then forms the foundation for the construction of the work.
Every decision, working with the gradients of her limited color palette to the symbols she inscribes become vehicles “for the artist to bridge meaning and investigate the creation of knowledge.”
For Viktor, blackness is an abundant source of energy and creation. “My investigations are around reconfiguring the stereotypes that we have taken as gospel, which are not true,” she states. “I do a lot of work that investigates the misrepresentation of blackness and when I say blackness, I am not talking just about race.”
In her work, light and life emerge from its richness in the form of symbols, bodies or vegetal forms. Her practice powerfully disavows harmful synonyms that accompany the word “black,” terms that, in the artist’s words, “you don’t even need to go far to see... you just go to the dictionary and look it up.”
Lina Iris Viktor: A Haven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred. will close at NOMA New Orleans Museum of Art on January 6, 2019.