The Life and Artworks of Wifredo Lam – a Cuban ‘Passeur’ in Paris

lam-photograph-of-the-artistMy proposal to present a research paper about the life and work of Cuban surrealist artist Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) at the forthcoming 2nd CARISCC Postgraduate Conference on Caribbean In/securities and Creativity (University of Leeds, UK, 8th March 2017) has been accepted. The presentation – titled, “Reading Issues of In/Security and Creativity through the Life and Artworks of Wifredo Lam: a Cuban ‘Passeur’ in Paris” – will form part of a broad conference programme themed around  ‘Reading’ Caribbean In/securities for Creativity. Through this theme my fellow conference contributors and I will seek to examine the links between precariousness and creativity within the context of Caribbean cultural, area and diaspora studies.

dscn0599
Exhibition view of a sculpture and painting (titled “Umbral” (1950)) by Wifredo Lam, featured in a room devoted to the artist’s works from the Pompidou’s permanent collection. This assemblage was showcased as part of the display “Multiple Modernities, 1905-1970” (2013-2015). Photo: Carol Dixon.

ABSTRACT:

When art scholar Catherine Grenier recently curated the exhibition “Multiple Modernities, 1905-1970”* for the Pompidou in Paris, she made reference to the French term “passeur” [“go-between”] to describe the activities of selected pioneering and influential modernists whose travels and artistic practices throughout the 20th century supported global artistic syncretism and dynamic cultural exchanges across a range of art forms, movements, genres and media. For Grenier, the role of the passeur was an important aspect of ‘thirding’ the Pompidou’s gallery spaces so as to displace and replace false Enlightenment era polarities of Self/Other binarism in favour of more fluid and pluralist ‘both/and also’ exhibiting practices – as advocated by cultural theorists such as Homi K. Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak and Ed Soja.

Photograph of the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam
Photograph of the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, taken in the early 1950s

One person celebrated and valorised in this thematic display as an influential passeur of Caribbean heritage – who (in Grenier’s words) “propagated the modern spirit throughout the world” – was the Cuban surrealist artist Wifredo Lam (1902-1982).

picasso_lam_photo_vallauris_1954_vignette
Artists Pablo Picasso and Wifredo Lam, photographed together in 1954.

In this conference presentation, archival documents and past exhibitions detailing the artist’s portfolio of works and his biography will be showcased as the prelude to addressing underlying questions about the extent of Wifredo Lam’s ‘borderless fluidity’ and ‘hybrid identity’ as a passeur ‘of colour’ – negotiating complex spaces and structures normalised as white within avant-garde Europe during the inter-war period. This spatio-temporal survey and mapping of his lived experiences – as an artist deeply influenced by his African, Asian and European ancestry, just as much as his connections to fellow artists in the Surrealist Movement of ‘Jazz Age’ Paris (most notably, Pablo Picasso) – will also serve as the prelude to deeper, critical reflections on the politics of in/security within the observed aesthetic characteristics and narrative interpretations of Lam’s visual poetics by contemporary art critics, scholars and wider publics.

wifredo-lam-large-painting
The Wedding (1947) by Wifredo Lam. Oil paint on canvas, dimensions 216 x 200. The original artwork is part of the collection of the Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museum, Berlin.

NOTES:

* The exhibition Modernités plurielles de 1905 à 1970 [Multiple Modernities, 1905-1970], was curated by Catherine Grenier (a former Co-director of the MNAM/CCI) and displayed at the Pompidou in Paris, 23 October 2013 – 26 January 2015. The display comprised more than 1000 works by 400 artists from 47 countries, brought together as part of an extensive curatorial research project exploring globalisation and its impacts on modern and contemporary visual arts.

WEBSITE LINKS:

lam-untitled-portrait-1939
Untitled portrait (1939), by Wifredo Lam. The original painting is part of a private collection (The Rudman Trust).

A selection of images from Wifredo Lam’s portfolio – on Artsy: https://www.artsy.net/artist/wifredo-lam

Wifredo Lam’s biography (via Encyclopedia Britannica): https://www.britannica.com/biography/Wifredo-Lam

Archived display information about the Pompidou’s showcase Modernités plurielles de 1905 à 1970 [Multiple Modernities, 1905-1970]

For further information about the full conference programme (2nd CARISCC Postgraduate Conference, University of Leeds, UK, 8th March 2017), please visit the CARISCC network website at http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/cariscc/index.aspx

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Carol Dixon

Carol Dixon is an education consultant and academic researcher interested in African and Caribbean diaspora histories and heritage, cultural geography, museology and contemporary visual art. Her PhD dissertation is titled "The 'othering' of Africa and its diasporas in Western museum practices" (University of Sheffield, UK).

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