Some Are Born to Endless Night: Lina Iris Viktor

It is just after 2 p.m. on a miserable autumn afternoon in London’s east end when I rock up to Autograph ABP. I cannot help but laugh to myself in bemusement as I pass an endless stream of fellow Londoners seeking refuge under the awnings of local cafes and restaurants to escape the relentless beating of the rain. I laugh partially, of course, because, for me, it is London’s precariousness that makes her so faithful to those who know her well. Naturally, I am protected by the large canopy of my trusted brolly, which also allows me to marvel for a few minutes over the impressive architecture of Sir David Adjaye’s Rivington Place building. Despite my earlier triumph in predicting the likely downpour, it would be dishonest of me to claim that I also anticipated the impact that Lina Iris Viktor’s exhibition would have on me. To be completely transparent, I am still digesting how emotional it made me feel, and that, for me, is a testament in itself. I deliberately missed the private viewing of her exhibition, expertly curated, might I add, by Renée Musai, as I expected it would be an uncomfortably snug affair. So, you can imagine how elated the introvert in me was to find that aside from the receptionist hidden behind the screen of her laptop, and one statuesque gallery assistant, I had the entire ground floor to myself. The first portrait that I immediately gravitated toward was from the artist’s series, “Dark Continent.” “Dark Continent” is the archaic 19th-century phrase used by Victorian explorers, writers and missionaries alike to conjure up imagery of savagery, barbarism and a lack of civilization in sub-Saharan Africa. Where dark, bare-chested women roamed in disease-infested jungles, and untold fortunes could be had by cruel men of action like Henry Morton Stanley, who dared to brave the perilous journey into the interior. Significantly, whilst Lina plays to these images in this series; posed naked, depicted almost entirely in matte black, and immersed in the jungle, she usurps the image of the helpless, uncivilized and naked African needing saving and redemption, and in fact cuts a poised, assured and goddess-like figure, enamored in ebony and gold. As I moved from portrait to portrait, enchanted by the obvious aesthetic beauty of the work, my mind raced as I mulled over the old and new narratives the artist dispelled and presented in equal measure in her vision of utopia. I finally arrived at the piece that took my breath away—as in I genuinely gasped in awe— “Constellation IX.” It is difficult to describe my experience with this piece. First, I was impressed simply by the sheer artistry of the gold gilding, an ancient practice popularized thousands of years ago by the Egyptians, who valued gold for its association with the Sun God, Ra. Then, I was blown away by how painstakingly meticulous each detail was, and how the symbols protruded off the canvas, creating a three-dimensional body of work that gave it an even greater magnitude and immersive allure that seemed to pull me in closer. After a few minutes of studious inspection, I felt myself entering a sort of me