Gold is Lina Iris Viktor’s gateway drug. Walk by any of her gleaming installations and the sparkle will catch your eye, draw you in for a closer examination, maybe even make you gasp. That’s the point. At first you’re in awe of the painstakingly planned 24-karat magic Viktor creates. From the composition to the use of color, nothing is impulsive. If you stare long enough, the layers start to emerge: a heady mix of Viktor’s Liberian roots, a nod to science, and wait, Is that blackface?! Well, not exactly. “I use beauty as a tool,” says Viktor from her New York City studio, where she is busy prepping for her upcoming exhibit, Some Are Born to Endless Night—Dark Matter, at the Autograph gallery in London.
The show, which features 60-plus offerings, will remain on display until January 2020. “Beauty is a doorway to a conversation about what’s actually being discussed beyond the aesthetic value,” adds the artist. “The purpose is to make people slow down and reflect.” That’s what happens when you view Viktor’s “Constellations.” (In 2018 she settled her lawsuit for copyright infringement against rapper Kendrick Lamar for using artwork eerily similar to hers in his “All the Stars” video.) A black and gold combination of symbols reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphics frames a nude woman—in Viktor’s image—painted in black. She sits front and center, her shorn head orbited by a halo? A planetary ring? Is she a Black Virgin Mary? Viktor insists she has no agenda. “Whatever comes to you comes,” she says. But on the short list of subjects she thinks about when she’s creating?
The universe was birthed from blackness. Our society has this very negative view of black, yet black is the source of everything.Lina Iris Viktor
In no particular order: reinstating the value of gold. She’s dismayed the metal has become a symbol of monetary wealth when throughout history it was traditionally “a godly material” used in churches, mosques, temples and other sacred spaces. Then there’s the idea of materia prima, or first matter, a concept drawn from astrophysics. “The universe was birthed from blackness,” Viktor explains. “Our society has this very negative view of black, yet black is the source of everything.” Perhaps more than anything, she wants to “reeducate” viewers about Africa. She points out how masters of the art world Picasso and Matisse were inspired by the Motherland. Says Viktor, “If you look to what their source material was, you may find that it’s actually part of our heritage.”