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Wifredo Lam

Cuban  •  1902-1982

Biography

Wifredo Lam was born in Sagua la Grande, Cuba and was of mixed Chinese, European, Indian and African descent. He studied under Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor, curator for the Museo del Prado and teacher of Salvador Dalí.

While studying in Spain, he met Pablo Picasso, who would become his mentor and friend as well as one of his great supporters, introducing him to the intelligentsia of the time. Lam significantly contributed to modernism during his prolific career as painter, printmaker, sculptor and ceramist. His works explored Cubism and expanded the inventive parameters of Surrealism while negotiating figuration and abstraction with a unique blend of Afro-Cuban and Surrealist iconography. His iconic visual language incorporated syncretic and fantastical objects and combined human-animal figures fused with lush vegetation.

Insights

  • Lam's 1942 group exhibition First Papers of Surrealism, held in New York at the Coordinating Council of French Relief Societies, was organized by Breton and installed by Marcel Duchamp. This exhibition launched Lam's career in the United States.

  • Lam seldom depicted empirical narrative scenes, instead using symbols to express the forces inherent in all forms of life.

  • The Jungle, Lam's masterpiece, was not intended to describe the primitivism of Cuba but rather to depict a spiritual state inspired by Santería, reflecting the absurdity of Afro-Cuban culture and how their traditions were cheapened by tourism. This painting is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art New York.

"I have tried to relocate Black cultural objects in terms of their own landscape...My painting is an act of decolonization."

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