Behind a curtain in a gallery in North London lies an undiscovered world. Inside the building’s doors, the hallway to the gallery’s walls is sectioned off by two pieces of black fabric that are drawn together so that no light can seep through and ensuring that its beguiling contents is concealed. If you should take the choice to make your way through the drapes, you will enter a space that is all at once intensely dark and dazzlingly light at the same time. In fact, almost everything about this universe is black, besides elements of gold that add beauty and splendor to the artwork of Lina Iris Viktor that lies inside. The artwork varies in size and it is all two-tonal: black and gold. In some images, a woman appears, while in others, we are exposed to geometric patterns that evoke a sense of alchemy and spirituality.
Viktor’s exhibition at Amar Gallery is extraordinary. BLACK EXODUS: Act I – Materia Prima subverts the white cube we have come to expect in the contemporary art gallery, transforming the exhibition space into a world without daylight. It is a place of eternal nighttime. Instead of the moon and stars, the only flicker and glow of warmth comes from stunning strips of gold leaf that appear on the surface of a series of black multi-media artworks that cover the ebony walls.
The patterns present in Viktor’s works are often thickly laid on to shiny backgrounds. Her practice is highly textured, playing with the contrast between matt, gloss and depth. The gold she uses is pure 24 carat, thus it is not surprising just how gloriously it glistens and sparkles in the black gallery. The exhibition, which takes place below street level, after the viewer has descended a small staircase, could be an underworld. It is a mythical place, somewhere that could only be dreamed of. The character that makes this territory so alluring is a single woman who appears continuously throughout the show. This female figure is nude and her hair has been dyed an unattainable shade of pure gold. Sometimes, she has been brushed with flecks of the precious metal, while at other times; her body is completely bare and exposed. The display, provocatively titled BLACK EXODUS, is a comment on the artistic and socio-political definition of “blackness”, whilst exploring existing narratives surrounding race and the African diaspora. This show is in fact just the beginning of the British-Liberian artist’s discussion on the topic, as the title affirms it is the first act. Moreover, “materia prima”, suggests primary material, perhaps explaining Viktor’s limited, yet powerful, colour palette.
The woman who appears throughout the Dark Continent series of paintings that takes up the majority of the show is Viktor herself. Across the works Viktor is seen with arms outstretched in a leafy environment. Viktor’s world is a natural, simplistic one, void of high-rise buildings and technological influences; instead she is surrounded by plants. In many of the images, her body is turned away from the viewer, whilst her back is tattooed with flecks of light. Most of the time, Viktor appears as a matt figure, positioned amongst a dark lacquered background with a sparing use of gold. These images have mysterious titles like A prophecy. And the scramble began…, Came the devil so shrewd in all his ways and For if they take you in the morning, we’ll be coming for you at night. These captions only add to the curiosity of Viktor’s images, drawing the viewer in to her strange, yet fascinating world.
While the geometric patterns in the background to Viktor’s paintings could be compared to the golden masterpieces of Gustav Klimt, they are in fact inspired by the Dogon of Mali, the Aztecs, Ancient Egypt and the indigenous cultures of Australia. She utilises the ancient practice of gilding with 24 carat gold with religious symbology, cosmology and naturally occurring biological patters such as human DNA appearing across the canvases.
BLACK EXODUS is not just an exhibition, it is an enrapturing world that is heavily layered in both darkness and light. The display is completely hypnotising and it is only the first act. Viktor has succeeded in spellbinding her audience, who will, no doubt, come back eagerly once the dark curtain at Amar Gallery has closed, and reopens – hopefully some time soon – for the next chapter.
BLACK EXODUS: Act I – Materia Prima is on display at Amar Gallery until 20 October