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.