Wifredo Lam is a central figure in Latin American modernism. Born to a Chinese father and Afro-Cuban mother, he studied as a child with his godmother, a Lucumí priestess. He then took art classes at the Academia de San Alejandro in Havana. In the nineteen-twenties, he was awarded a fellowship to study in Europe, where he met major figures from the avant-garde groups active between World War I and World War II. His production from this period was particularly influenced by cub- ism and, later, by surrealism. Drawn to African masks and sculpture, Lam pursued a synthetic figuration; the line took precedence over color in frontal and hieratic figures. The death of his wife and son from tuberculosis changed the course of his life. An opponent of fascism, he returned to Cuba in 1941 escaping the Spanish Civil War and Nazi-occupied France. “I wanted with all my heart to paint the drama of my country and to express in detail the Black spirit and the beauty of the art of Black people. I would, thus, be able to act as a Trojan horse out of which would come hallucinatory figures capable of jarring and unsettling the dreams of the exploiters,” he said in a statement that evidences an anticolonial consciousness that challenged the Western construction of the primitive. His peers in Cuba included intellectuals investigating Afro-Cuban traditions, among them anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, writer Alejo Carpentier, and ethnographer Lydia Cabrera. Along with "La jungla" [The Jungle] and "La mañana verde", "Omi Obini" is one of the oil paintings most representative of work with the vegetable- human-divine syncretism characteristic of Lam’s production in those first years after his return to the island. "Omi Obini" depicts a levitating being; its body contains horned heads of Elegua, the goddess of roads in the Yoruba religion; it is surrounded by stalks of sugarcane and palm leaves. One of the piece’s most impressive traits is its luminousness, the result of translucent layers of green, blue, purple, ochre, and red pigments. The blank parts of the painting seem to vibrate as they convey the visual experience of the light of the Caribbean and the fluctuation between the physical and the metaphysical.


  • Title: Omi Obini
  • Creator: Wifredo Lam
  • Date Created: 1943
  • Physical Dimensions: 72 x 56 in
  • Provenance: Eduardo F. Costantini Collection
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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