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Saturday, November 3 • 9:00am - 10:30am
5.C. Wifredo Lam

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PANEL. Wifredo Lam

“Rhythm as Aesthetics, Art as Event: On Wifredo Lam’s Surrealism”
Wyatt Sarafin
New York University

Two years after his return to Cuba, the surrealist painter Wifredo Lam had completed his most celebrated work, The Jungle, in 1943. Causing a scandal upon its release, The Jungle is an original but shocking synthesis of European and Caribbean style, fusing an African “primitivism” with Western cubism. Lam had aspired for the work to capture the rhythm of the “black spirit”—to create that one “true picture” with the “power to set the imagination to work.” This paper will explore the ways in which Lam utilizes rhythm as a metaphor for the transnational self, allowing for the singular representation of the colonial networks that so elusively structure postcolonial life. Additionally, I will examine how migration and ethnography have come to produce the documentary tendencies of negrismo and later Afro-Cuban art. Historically speaking, negrismo is associated with the transnational project of Pan-Africanism—a movement which constitutes the formation of a black identity and an emerging consciousness. In Lam’s engagements with modernity the Afro-Cubano subject becomes a cosmopolitan figure, and yet how exactly the rural peasantry get to that phenomenology of the black experience becomes entangled in his search for a political and existential direction. But to what extent is Lam projecting high art’s aesthetic tradition onto a Caribbean imaginary? As I will demonstrate, the uncanny split between exilic and homely temporal spaces finds meaningful psychic representation in The Jungle. As such, Lam’s particular iteration of Caribbean surrealism establishes the conditions of possibility for a subjective, even political response.

“The Multiple Surrealisms of Wifredo Lam”
Mey-Yen Moriuchi
La Salle University

The artist Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) is acclaimed for his semi-abstract, polymorphic paintings that draw on African motifs and the Santeria religion, in addition to avant-garde movements such as Cubism and Surrealism. Born and raised in Cuba, Lam’s early travels to Europe exposed him to modernist styles, and important friendships with Pablo Picasso and André Breton secured his place among the Parisian avant-garde. The Parisian art world’s fixation with the primitive prompted Lam to explore the possibilities of his identity as an Afro-Cuban. His hybrid animal-human figures and fragmented, flattened compositions are linked to his Afro-Cuban culture, as well as to his experimentation with automatism and surrealist games such as cadavre exquis. Scholarship has focused on Lam’s art as a synthesis of Cubism, Surrealism, and Afro-Cuban traditions. This paper, however, seeks to situate Lam’s oeuvre in a post-colonial, multicultural Cuban context by addressing the impact of another aspect of Lam’s background that has not been adequately addressed by scholars: his Chinese heritage. Lam’s father, Yam Lam, was an immigrant from Canton, China, while his Cuban mother, Ana Serafina Castilla, was a descendant of ancestors from Congo and Spain. The emphasis on Lam’s black African roots and his encounter with European modernism has neglected the influence of Lam’s Chinese culture on his art. Is there a convergence of Asian and Afro-Cuban traditions that has been overlooked? This paper will consider the presence and significance of the multiple Surrealisms- European, Caribbean, Asian- present in the oeuvre of the Chinese-African-Cuban artist Wifredo Lam.

"Wifredo Lam’s Surrealist Reinterpretation of the Geographic"
Samantha A Noel
Wayne State University

This paper will focus on the political dimensions of the landscapes which are prevalent in Wifredo Lam’s paintings in the years after his return to Cuba. Lam’s transformed the Cuban landscape and the way black Cubans are represented. Also, his art allowed for a re-imagining of the latter’s relationship with the environment that they occupied. This paper will reveal how Lam’s reinvention of the landscape was ultimately a prelude to the self-definition all black Atlantic peoples aspired to have. The Surrealism and Negritude movements contributed tremendously to the evolution of his aesthetic trajectory. The Surrealist-inspired writings of Aimé  Césaire and his wife, Suzanne Césaire were heavily informed by the geography of their native Martinique and Suzanne even propagated that Antillean identity could be empowered if situated in the soil, the nucleus of the landscape. This paper will thus examine the ways in which Lam’s dense topographies reference not only Cuba, but are also indelibly linked to the wider Caribbean as well as the tropical terrains of ancestral Africa. Through his disruption and transformation of Western modernism, Lam’s art truly reflected his propagation for an art of decolonization, and thereby challenged wide-held notions of originality. Indeed, the visual language of Surrealism contributed to Lam’s ground-breaking aesthetic that was brazenly avant-garde. Finally, in this paper, I will explicate how Lam’s art aids in the generation of a new representation of Cubans and black Atlantic peoples alike as well as their alternative geographic formulations of the land they inhabit. This effort at redefinition affirms the persistence of black modernity.


Mey-Yen Moriuchi

La Salle University

Samantha Noel

Wayne State University

Wyatt Sarafin

New York University

avatar for Raymond Spiteri

Raymond Spiteri

University of Wellington

Saturday November 3, 2018 9:00am - 10:30am EDT
Room C. Vaughan Literature: Willard Smith Library (ground floor)