Wifredo Lam was born in Sagua la Grande, Cuba, in 1902. His parents were of Chinese, African, and Spanish ancestry. In 1923 Lam moved to Spain to study art at the Museo del Prado, Madrid (under a former teacher of Salvador Dalí) remaining in Spain another thirteen years. After being wounded fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, Lam moved to Paris in 1938, where he met Picasso. Picasso introduced him to artists and writers living in Paris, including André Breton, leader of the Surrealists. It was in Europe at this time that Lam first saw the African sculpture that so informed his painting.
Lam’s work gained international recognition in the 1940s, with a series of one-person shows in London, Paris and New York. Between 1947 and 1952, Lam lived and worked in Havana, New York and Paris, where he eventually settled, continuing his career until his death in 1982. His work can be found in major museums throughout the world, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Modern in London.
Lam contributed a non-European Afro-Cuban voice to Western art, synthesizing Cubism, Surrealism, “primitivism,” Négritude (Black Identity), Afro-Cuban history, and the African-derived Santeria religion. “Over time competing interpretations of Lam’s work have been offered. Initially he was presented as a Surrealist and Primitivist, his work seen as a fusion of non-Western and Western meanings into a kind of universal myth,” said William Jeffett, Dalí Museum Curator of Special Exhibitions. “More recently his mature work has been presented as challenging Western models of Modernism from the vantage point of post-colonialism and Afro-Cuban identity. It is now clear that Lam was intellectually engaged with contemporary anthropological analyses: whether those generated in Europe by figures such as his close friend Michel Leiris (Head of African Art at the Musée de l’Homme) or closer to home in Cuba, where Fernando Ortiz, Lydia Cabrera, Alejo Carpentier opened the critical discussion of Santeria.”
Organized by the Patrick and Beatrice Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI.
Its presentation in St. Petersburg is curated by William Jeffett, Dalí Museum Curator of Special Exhibitions. Dr. Jeffett is an international authority on Salvador Dalí and modern Spanish art. Prior to coming to St. Petersburg the exhibition has been presented at the Haggerty Museum of Art, the Miami Art Museum and the Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, California.
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