Image of Wifredo Lam's painting Bélial, Emperor of the Flies Bélial, empereur des mouches 1948

Wifredo Lam Bélial, Emperor of the Flies Bélial, empereur des mouches 1948 Private collection

In late 1945, Mabille invited Lam to Haiti for a solo show in Port-au- Prince. There Lam and Holzer were reunited with Breton, who wrote a poetic text, ‘At night in Haiti’, which evoked Lam’s art. During their stay, they witnessed political unrest, and attended a number of Vodou ceremonies. These experiences inspired the new works made for an increasing number of exhibitions, including the International Exhibition of Surrealism at Galerie Maeght, Paris, and Bloodflames at the Hugo Gallery, New York, both in 1947.

In the spring of 1948, the Pierre Matisse gallery in New York presented an exhibition of Lam’s most recent works, including the three large, symbolic paintings shown in this room: The Wedding 1947, Nativity 1947 and Bélial, Emperor of the Flies 1948. A series of Canaïma paintings were also included, the title referring to isolated areas of the Venezuelan jungle populated by indigenous people who had little contact with European colonists.

Lam and Holzer spent the summer in New York, and met avant-garde artists including Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Isamu Noguchi, John Cage, Roberto Matta and Arshile Gorky. Lam applied for permanent residency in the United States, only to be rejected owing to his father’s Chinese nationality. The quota set by immigration officials had apparently already been reached. Holzer decided to remain in New York to resume her medical research.