Havana 1944

Wifredo Lam The Eternal Present (An Homage to Alejandro García Caturla) 1944 Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, USA) © SDO Wifredo Lam

Wifredo Lam The Eternal Present (An Homage to Alejandro García Caturla) 1944 Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, USA) © SDO Wifredo Lam

At the beginning of 1943, Lam completed his breakthrough work, a monumental painting called The Jungle. It was painted onto large pieces of kraft paper and is now, unfortunately, too fragile to travel. In the associated paintings – Lam usually worked on several compositions at once – he consolidated his new imagery and style. Hybrid human / animal figures flit through the Cuban undergrowth. The fertility of his wild garden of sugar cane, papaya and banana plants generates breast-like and phallic forms.

The Eternal Present 1944 was the next in a sequence of grand compositions that mark out the Cuban decade. Huge hybrid figures perform in a shallow space created by combining precise drawing with flickering brushwork. The details indicate a parallel, visionary world evoked through Lam’s allusion to Santería Orisha in the horned head of Elegua, the Messenger-God, and the double spear of Changó,the God of Thunder. Here, and in related works such as Altar for Elegua 1944 and Altar for Yemaya 1944, Lam suggests an atmosphere of energy and mystery rather than illustrating a particular ritual.