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The Drawings of Wifredo Lam: 1940-1955

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Wifredo Lam described himself as a Trojan horse overflowing with powerful figures—winged horses, horned moons, Yoruba gods—poised to disrupt the contented dreams of colonization that haunted the 20th century.  Lam was born in Cuba in 1902, a descendent of Chinese immigrants, Spanish conquistadors, and Congolese slaves. As a child, he witnessed the hallucinatory mixture of Catholic ritual and African rites that characterizes Cuban Santería. These visions would continue to stir his imagination throughout his life. In Europe, Lam became part of the inner circles of modernism and surrealism alongside Pablo Picasso, André Breton, and Joan Miró, artists who were also fascinated by the power of African forms and symbols.

With the onset of WWII, many intellectuals fled Europe for the Caribbean. Returning to Cuba after nearly a twenty-year absence, Lam immersed himself in the plight of black Cubans. His work evolved rapidly, fusing cubist and surrealist approaches with Afro-Cuban motifs, resulting in hybrid figures that combined humans, animals, and plants. During the period of roughly 1940-1955, Lam exhibited extensively, traveling between Cuba, France and the United States, settling eventually in Paris and later, Italy. The works in this exhibition come from the private family collection of Lam’s great nephew, Juan Castillo Vázquez. This marks their first exhibition in the United States, and one of the first cultural exchanges with Cuba in the period of renewed diplomatic relations.