Nativité (Nativity)

Wifredo Lam

Sagua la Grande, Cuba, 1902 - Paris, France, 1982

Wifredo Lam, one of the pre-eminent artists from the Cuban avant-garde and a pivotal figure of modern art in Latin America, died on 11 September 1982. Decades previously, he had spent an extensive period in Spain, where he was involved in the Civil War with the Republican faction as a member of the International Artists’ Brigades and the Union of Painters from Spain’s General Union of Workers.His return to Cuba after the German occupation of France represented a bona fide aesthetic revolution — he left Marseille with a group of around 300 exiled intellectuals, among them Claude Lévi-Strauss, André Breton and a cluster of Surrealists. His reconciliation with the island’s landscape, his reconnection with the memory of family (his father was Chinese; his mother of African descent), a closer proximity to religious worship of African origin under the guidance of ethnologists Lydia Cabrera and Fernando Ortiz and writer Alejo Carpentier saw Lam’s work break away from the languages of Cubism and Surrealism to find unique poetics which sought to dismantle the still latent colonial gaze in European modernisms. Thus, he submerged his roots in the Black legacy as the foundational matrix of cultures of resistance and escaped slaves from the Caribbean.Lam’s networks of artistic and intellectual involvement and solidarity, which made him an ambassador of modern avant-garde movements of the West in Latin America, enabled the Salón de Mayo to be held in Havana in 1967. Later, a tribute to his death came with the founding, in 1983, of the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Centre, which focused on research into and the visibility of art from Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, in addition to the convening of the First Havana Biennial in 1984, the theoretical event of which was dedicated to Lam’s work.Suset Sánchez Sánchez