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Wifredo Lam

Artist 166

Wifredo Lam

Afro-Cuban Cultural identity

Hybrid figures

Wifredo Óscar de la Concepción Lam y Castilla (born 1902 – 1982) better known as Wifredo Lam, was a Cuban artist who sought to portray and revive the enduring Afro-Cuban spirit and culture.

Inspired by and in contact with some of the most renowned artists of the 20th century including Pablo Picasso. Lam melded his influences and created a unique style, which was ultimately characterized by the prominence of hybrid figures.

He noticed that the descendents of the slaves were still being oppressed and that the Afro-Cuban culture was degraded and made picturesque for the sake of tourism.

He believed that Cuba was in danger of losing its African heritage and therefore sought to free them from cultural subjugation.

Additionally, his time in Cuba marked a rapid evolution of his style. Drawing from his study of tropical plants and familiarity with Afro-Cuban culture, his paintings became characterized by the presence of a hybrid figure—part human, part animal, and part vegetal.

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.

Considering Lam was born to a Chinese immigrant father and a mother of African and Spanish descent. I was excited and really curious to see what his interpretation of ‘Afro-Cuban’ cultural identity would be. Especially in the 1900s but from his European education it seems he adopted a lot of their problems.

This to me feels like a strong influence from Europe and there is so much more to African identity. In contrast looking at African Surrealism and Cubism within Africa at this time period (the 1940s) they are far more nuanced.

Articles call him ever conscious of social injustice. That his antipathy to colonialism intensified when he came back to Cuba, lending the work he made there an electric charge.

But I don’t see how these images of hybrid female figures challenge colonialism it seems to fall well into their rhetoric.

Sources Consulted:…/a-five-point-guide-to-cuban-artist…


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