Symbology of the work of Wifredo Lam

The artistry of Wifredo Lam, though appreciated and admired worldwide, is little understood. Much of this is due to the fact that, during the mid to late 30’s,he transformed his work from one that was mannered primarily in the style of Europe and the extraordinarily limiting Baroque influences of Cuba, at the time, to a completely new and unique style. Drawing on the radical heterogeneity and the ambivalence of power within the figurative tropes of women, the black world, and nature at work within French Modernism, Lam turned his work into a profound act of disruption. He subjected European culture to the ancestral spirits of the Afro Cuban world, and in the process disempowered it. It became Africanized. Hallucinating figures with the power to surprise, and disturb the dreams of the exploiters.

Only through images of metamorphosis, transformations, and correspondences could Lam both suggest a sphere of subterranean images that represent the ongoing mythic force of history and struggle to create a sacred knowledge around which identity could be forged.

For Lam, metamorphosis as possession was a central theme. Through mimesis Lam subjected European models to the ancestral spirits of Afro Cuban culture. He looked at the co-existence and interplay of different orders of reality, orders of reality governed by historical memory and perception, or experience and observation. The role of his art became the exploration of the significance of exchange between these orders, as the transmutation of sacred knowledge. It became the perception or revelation of different orders of reality, within reality.

Lam’s images reject scrutiny. Enigma, as structure, endures by virtue of what it withholds, retains the attention it has caught, and acquires a political stamina.

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