Wifredo Lam. The Jungle (La Jungla). 1943 429

Gouache on paper mounted on canvas, 94 1/4 x 90 1/2" (239.4 x 229.9 cm). Inter-American Fund. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Curator, Christophe Cherix: I think The Jungle is really trying to express a culture rather than a place.

Wifredo Lam was born in a small town in Cuba. His father was Chinese, his mother was both of Hispanic and African descent. He moved to Spain in 1923, and lived both in Spain and France. Coming back home after almost 20 years, he found himself, in 1941, in Havana again. And he expressed a profound sadness to see what had happened to his people. They were oppressed. There’s this legacy of colonial rules, segregated society.

If you look at it, you'll see elements that can relate to Cuba, you see sugar canes for instance, but you'll see also a hybrid figure, like a woman-horse. You'll see parts that look like African mask. And they have this kind of totemic look. They’re very vertical. It becomes this kind of maze that once you enter, you don't know if you'll ever be able to get out.

So, he’s going to bring into the composition this Afro-Cuban language, which is blend together with influences, of course, of what he had experienced the last 20 years of his life. You can think of Cubism, this idea of how do you depict reality in a new way. You can think of Surrealism where you can bring together things that don't seem to belong together. But I think, more importantly, you see an artist being at a cultural crossroad trying to use everything of his own experience, of his own identity to express something bigger than him.

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