However, Lam’s work should never be regarded as a straightforward illustration of Afro-Cuban beliefs. His paintings are, first and foremost, artistic compositions, and they do not document any particular rituals. While in forced exile to the Caribbean, Lam appropriated images and themes of this African poetry, whose evocative power of revolt he so often extolled. His borrowings from this iconography were then assembled, like a collage, primarily with a view to the visual coherence of the painting. From the 1940s on, Lam associated with André Breton and his friends in the Surrealist group. It was then that he became familiar with the poetics of collage, which he had the opportunity to engage in with other exiles in the group, including Max Ernst, who, like him in 1941, were all waiting in Marseille to be able to leave occupied France. “No, my painting would never be the equivalent of that pseudo-Cuban music for nightclubs. I refused to paint the cha-cha-cha. I wanted with all my heart to paint the drama of my country, but by thoroughly expressing the negro spirit, the beauty of the plastic art of the blacks. In this way I could act as a Trojan horse that would spew forth hallucinating figures with the power to surprise, to disturb the dreams of the exploiters. I knew I was running the risk of not being understood by either the man in the street or by the others. But a true picture has the power to set the imagination to work, even if it takes time.” (Wifredo Lam in André Breton, Le Surréalisme et la Peinture, Paris, 1965, pp. 169-171)
A nomadic spirit marked by the feeling of never quite belonging, Wifredo Lam never hid the impact that the prevailing injustice in the world had on him; rather, he displayed it with great clarity. This painting illustrates both his revolt against evil and his hope that one day peace would return to Earth. “Sometimes Wifredo’s face becomes serious, pained: he thinks of man’s pain, of injustice, of randomness, that he will never accept. Suddenly, Wifredo and Lou’s young children come into the room. And so he smiles, then he laughs, as only he knows how to laugh, as the young laugh.” (Max-Pol Fouchet).
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