On the Cover: Lina Iris Viktor's Expansive Image of Black History

Holly Black, Elephant, October 16, 2020

Lina Iris Viktor’s richly complex painting Fourth features on the latest cover of Elephant magazine. Informed by the mythological figure of the Libyan Sibyl, a prophetic priestess who became affiliated with the Abolitionist movement, it is inscribed with the interconnected histories of Liberia and the United States. I spoke to the artist about the inspiration behind the imagery and the importance of expansive storytelling.

 

This piece forms part of the A Haven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred series, which debuted at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2018. Can you tell me a little about the original impetus for this body of work?

 

People might assume it is a personal investigation into my Liberian roots, but it is really more of a study in human behaviour and how, as a society, we have created situations that have been very detrimental to large numbers of people. It forms something of a cautionary tale. I wanted to unravel the narratives that connect Liberia with not only American history, but African American history.

 

I don’t think Liberia’s story is that well known [the modern-day country began as a settlement for “repatriated” former slaves from the United States] and people always say that it was not colonised, though I would beg to differ. It just wasn’t colonised by white Europeans! I was also told that there was no connection between Liberia and New Orleans, and the history of this entire migration is very poorly documented. However, I discovered that John McDonogh, a local slave owner, was part of the American Colonization Society that organised repatriation. His statue has recently been pulled down as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.