British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor presents a September exhibition at Autograph ABP, Shoreditch which offers striking commentaries on a vibrant palette, imbued as it is with spiritual, historical and ethnic elements. She brings together an exploration of hermetic philosophies and mathematical and scientific principles in this empowered celebration of the African queen.
You’re left in no doubt about her palette choices even as you enter the front gallery where the walls have been painted gold to match the rich, regal colour that is stamped in all her work on the lower floor. Gold and black are the dominant hues. The black-skinned female figures are a running theme in both small and large scale works – their complexions an uncompromising shade of ebony that spills out onto the surrounding walls where even the botanical features in the paintings are so coloured. And yes, the actual potted plants around the gallery are also burnt to the same shade to allay you of any doubt.
Lina Iris Viktor comments: “I only see the absolute beauty and the depth of black…Black to me is the proverbial ‘materia prima’: the first matter, blackness as source, the dark matter that birthed everything.” And in her work it’s a colour only interjected by the gold of the African headwear, gilded plaits and afros and disparate decorative elements in the intricate mixed media tapestries in the backdrop.
You’re drawn to the gold sovereign sun that keeps popping up in her ‘black’ series of paintings on this lower floor. It is distinctly marked from the rest of the painting: thematically thickly layered and shimmering with abundance and sovereign power. In some cases it is dripping its rays onto these women like a waterfall as if to impart divinity on some immortal transformation. It’s clear to see these female figures are the essence of black goddesses.
The Blue Void room on the upper floor is painted a brilliant ultramarine blue in celebration of another colour with a common language across her portfolio. The centre-piece is a purpose-built blue chapel with the paintings perhaps reflecting the iconography of the Virgin Mary and her connections with that colour. In the Byzantine era, the colour blue symbolised royalty and for the Catholic Church purity, thus it became the colour of the Virgin Mary.
It’s with some irony that Iris Viktor subverts racial and religious themes with her own ‘Mary’ jet black-skinned but with ultramarine blue hair, blue eyes and again that sovereign sun now positioned as an iconographic halo around her head. Hints of the Black Madonna? It’s been argued that the original Virgin Mary was an African goddess called Isis and her son Horus was the continent’s Jesus, so perhaps this is a comment on dyadic opposites. No firm statement just an invitation to explore.
There’s a minimalist tilt on this floor with the purist colour approach and fewer paintings in the space. It’s a vivid, sensual experience in an immersive environment which encourages you to share her journey and colour-enhanced worlds on your own terms and to check your preconceived ideas at the door until you’ve checked in with this sensory experience. So it’s not just a matter of popping in and looking at the paintings. She presents the colour blue as denoting reflection but certainly religious or spiritual reverence. For those who see similarities between the hallowed silence in galleries and places of worship, the Blue Void is an experience within both realms.
Lina Iris Viktor: Some Are Born to Endless Night – Dark Matter 13 Sept – 20 Jan 2020