In this charcoal and pastel drawing, a small winged animal with horns is perched on the head of a figure that recalls Lam’s portraits of the hybrid "femme-cheval" (horse-headed woman). Throughout his career, Lam created variations of the "femme-cheval", a recurring motif informed by Surrealism as well as Santería rituals in which the orisha, or deity, is said to “ride” the devotee’s head during initiation ceremonies. During his stay in Marseilles in 1940, Lam illustrated his friend André Bretón’s book of poems, "Fata Morgana", with his first figures of this kind. Following his return to Cuba in 1941, he further evolved the femme-cheval through various incarnations, reconnecting with his Afro-Cuban heritage and the symbology of Santería, to which he was introduced as a boy. She appears in the present work in a state of abstracted transfiguration, her featureless, angular head—with signature mane—capped by the preternatural bird, whose presence suggests the magical metamorphosis underway.
This text was created in collaboration with the University of Maryland Department of Art History & Archaeology and written by Patricia Ortega-Miranda.