Saturday, September 6, 2008

Old Men in Country, Unknowns, and La Jungla

¡Hola! Everybody…
Okay! Imagine this if you can: Obama chooses a little-known, woefully inexperienced woman no one has heard of from the smallest state in the union. She was mayor of town that has a population smaller than some districts in Chicago (heck, I see more people on the train everyday). What we do know is that she is under investigation for abuse of power, and has ties to a
secessionist movement (I thought we did away with secession in the 1840s?). Her 17-year-old daughter is preggers by a hip-hop loving ‘hood rat who actually stated on his myspace page that he didn’t want "no bitches’ child." Oh yeah! Add to all that mess, this VP pick slashed funds for comprehensive sex education and from programs assisting teen mothers.

Now, picture this, if you can: would the media be so fawning, if after all this, this candidate was not allowed to speak to the media?

I believe, and correct me if I’m wrong, that if Obama even thought about such a scenario, his testicles would be on show at the nearest hick mall.

* * *

-=[ La Jungla (The Jungle) ]=-

“In some remote
rain forest,
under the approving eyes
of the ancient Orishas,
we took each other,
like animals of
the jungle.”

All rights reserved ©

Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) was born and raised in a village in the sugar farming region Cuba. He was of mixed ancestry: his father, Yam Lam, was a Chinese immigrant and his mother, Ana Serafina Lam, was born to a Congolese, former slave mother, and a Cuban mulatto father. During his formative years, Lam was surrounded by many people of African descent. Like many other Cuban families, they practiced a Catholicism that was actually thinly disguised African spiritual traditions. Through his godmother, a Santeria priestess locally recognized as a healer and sorceress, he was exposed to rites of the African orishas. His contact with African celebrations and spiritual practices proved to be his largest artistic influence.

In 1916, Lam moved to Havana to study law, a path that his family had forced upon him. At the same time, he also began studying tropical plants. Though Lam studied painting formally, he disliked both academic teaching and painting. He left for Madrid in 1923 to further his art studies.

I first came across Lam’s work purely by accident. I was a huge fan of the powerful Cuban Latin jazz/ fusion group Irakere and on the cover of one that group’s most masterful recordings, Misa Negra (The Black Mass), Lam’s masterpiece, La Jungla (The Jungle) was used. The piece grabbed me immediately. Curious, I did a little research and discovered that the MoMA had La Jungla and I went to see this magnificent work. From the moment I saw his work, I immediately fell in love with Lam’s work – it spoke to me on so many levels that it was difficult to tease all the threads.

Lam was different from his Cuban peers in that he immersed himself in European influences that would eventually result in his transcultural perspective. The influence of Surrealism is discernable in his work, as well as that of Henri Matisse. Lam’s travels through the Spanish countryside helped develop an empathy for the Spanish peasants, whose strife mirrored that of the former slaves he grew up around in Cuba. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Lam sided against the fascists and used his talent to create Republican posters and propaganda.

Incapacitated during the war, he was eventually introduced to Picasso, whose artwork had impressed and inspired Lam at an exhibition an exhibition in Madrid. They were to become friends and Picasso became a big supporter of Lam, introducing him to many of the leading artists of the time, such as Fernand Leger, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Joan Miró. Picasso also introduced him to, a Parisian art dealer; Pierre Loeb, who gave Lam his first exhibition at the Galerie Pierre Loeb in 1939, which was critically accepted.

When Lam returned to Cuba, he developed a deep connection of the rural peasants. In many ways, his work is a response to what he saw as the commercialization and trivialization of Afro-Cuban culture. His work uncovered the absurdity that had become Afro-Cuban culture and the way their traditions were cheapened for tourism. Lam’s intention was to depict a spiritual state -- certainly inspired by Santeria; He sought to describe the reality of his people through the powerful work and gained acclaim and fame for doing

The Jungle, which is considered Lam’s masterpiece, is an excellent example of the artist’s later style. The polymorphism, for which Lam is well known, contrasts aspects of humans, animals, and plants, creating hybrid creatures. This is surely a huge Santeria influence that would make the figures seem monstrous to Eurocentric perspectives. The crowded composition creates a claustrophobic feeling while the forms are difficult to differentiate. The elongated limbs lack definition, while much emphasis is placed on their large feet, round buttocks, and African-inspired masked heads. Additionally, the shimmering quality of the forms enhances the painting’s tropical sensitivity.



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