The Republic of Liberia was intended to be a home for formerly enslaved people, and the U.S. officially recognized it during the Civil War. British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor’s work recalls its history as an offshoot of the American abolitionists’ romantic vision of a “Libyan Sibyl” — a mythic prophetess of the slave trade. In her mixed-media works, Viktor not only invokes the arcane mysteries of the past but also, using herself as a model, morphs into a modern, time-transcending sibyl who embodies an Afro-futurist notion of boundless possibility. Civilization began in Africa, and if Viktor’s gilded baroque invocations of deeply personal possibility recall Austrian maestro Gustav Klimt’s use of gold as an elemental agent of timelessness, her imagery’s roots in the Egyptian Book of the Dead suggest a vision in which time becomes an infinitely variable color on the artist’s palette, a form of energy that transcends traditional limits through the sheer force of artistic imagination.
Unfettered imagination and intuition were the babies postmodernism unintentionally threw out with the bathwater, but Viktor’s exhibit of 11 large works in the atrium lobby of the New Orleans Museum of Art conveys a sense of boundless resourcefulness in works like “Eleventh” (pictured), in which the artist’s retro-Egyptian pose appears integrated into a Liberian tribal map where geographical forms meld seamlessly with the patterns of the African fabrics she wears. In “First” she reticently gazes backward at a floral grid that looks like a trellis in which time appears as an organic efflorescence. In “Fourth” she appears as a mythic being who merges the gilded formalism of ancient Egypt with the infinitely shimmering depths of the sub-Saharan world. Sir David Adjaye, who consulted on New Orleans’ Crescent Park and was the lead architect for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, recently said about Viktor that her work “crosses confidently across a landscape of science, technology, culture and identity with a timeless elegance and a casual defiance that is definitively modern.”
Through Jan. 6, 2019. New Orleans Museum of Art, 1 Collins C. Diboll Circle, (504) 658-4100; www.noma.org.