Justice and rebirth: a visual chronicle of the artist who fused Afro-Cuban visual culture with European modernism
This chronological survey traces the Cuban painter and sculptor Wifredo Lam’s (1902–82) career from the late 1930s to the ’70s, spotlighting the radically syncretic visual language he developed in response to modernism’s Eurocentricity. Born to a Chinese father and Congolese Iberian mother, Lam placed heritage centrally in his work. Early in his career, he associated with major figures such as Picasso, Matisse and Braque, and he was struck by their integration of African iconography. Although he greatly respected these European artists, the dissonance between their aesthetic choices and cultural experience was not lost on him—especially given the racism and exploitation that characterized Cuban society under the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Lam spent the rest of his career endeavoring to decolonize modernist art. From his early Surrealist works to his later preference for geometric abstraction, African sculpture and the Afro-Caribbean diaspora consistently informed his practice.
Published for an exhibition at Pace, The Imagination at Work includes paintings, works on paper and rarely seen bronze sculptures, as well as a biography of Lam’s life and career by the Latin American art scholar and curator Michaëla de Lacaze Mohrmann, who made curatorial contributions to the gallery’s exhibition. Essays by scholars Alexander Alberro, Kaira Cabañas, Samantha A. Noël and Alexandra Chang also feature.