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Wifredo Lam | Chinese Cuban Artist | Art Latina

Wifredo Óscar de la Concepción Lam y Castilla December 8, 1902 – September 11, 1982), also known as Wifredo Lam.

Wilfredo Lam was a Cuban artist whom depicted the enduring Afro-Cuban spirit and culture.

Wilfredo Lam was inspired by the most renowned artists of the 20th century including Pablo Picasso, Lam melded his influences and created his own creative style. Though Wilfredo was predominantly a painter, he also worked with sculpture, ceramics and printmaking in his later life.

Wifredo Lam was born and raised in Villa Clara, Cuba to the Chinese immigrant Yam Lam and Cuban mother Ana Serafina Castilla. In Sagua La Grande Cuba, Lam was surrounded by many people of African descent including his grandmother, Matonica Wilson, a Santería priestess locally celebrated as a healer and sorceress, he was exposed to rites of the African orishas. His contact with African celebrations and spiritual practices proved to be his largest artistic influence.

In 1916 Lam moved to Havana to study law, a path that his family had thrust upon him. Simultaneously he also began studying tropical plants at the Botanical Gardens. From 1918 to 1923, Lam studied painting at the Escuela de Bellas Artes. However, Lam disliked both academic teaching and painting. He left for Madrid in the autumn of 1923 to further his art studies.

The Jungle, which is considered Lam's masterpiece, is exemplary of the artist's mature style. The polymorphism, for which Lam is well known, juxtaposes aspects of humans, animals and plants, creating monstrous, hybrid creatures. The dense composition creates a claustrophobic feeling while the forms remain difficult to differentiate. The figures’ elongated limbs lack definition, while much emphasis is placed on their large feet, round buttocks, and African-inspired masked heads. Additionally, the iridescent quality of the forms enhances the painting's tropical feeling.

The Jungle was not, however, intended to describe the primitivism of Cuba. Rather, Lam's intention was to depict a spiritual state—that which is surely inspired by Santería; he sheds light on the absurdity that has become Afro-Cuban culture and more specifically on the way their traditions were cheapened for tourism. He sought to describe the reality of his people through the powerful work and gained acclaim and fame for doing so.

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