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2 / Dreams and Visions

The Jungle
The Jungle
Artist / Origin Wifredo Lam (Cuban, 1902–1982)
Date 1943
Material Gouache on paper mounted on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 8 ft. (24 m.), W: 7 ½ ft. (2.3 m.)
Location The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Credit © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris/Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by Scala/Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

Whitney ChadwickProfessor Emerita of Art History, San Francisco State University
Judith BettelheimProfessor of Art History, San Francisco State University

Additional Resources

Ades, Dawn, Edward Lucie-Smith, Paula Schulze, and Wifredo Lam. Wifredo Lam in North America. Milwaukee: Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, 2008.

Balderrama, Maria R., ed. Wifredo Lam and His Contemporaries, 1938–1952. New York: Studio Museum in Harlem, 1993.

Fletcher, Valerie. Crosscurrents of Modernism; Four Latin American Pioneers: Diego Rivera, Joaquín Torres-García, Wifredo Lam y Roberto Matta. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1992.

Sims, Lowery S. “Syncretism and Syntax in the Art of Wifredo Lam.” In Readings in Latin American Modern Art, edited by Patrick Frank, 93–97. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Sims, Lowery Stokes. Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 1923–1982. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

“Wifredo Lam. The Jungle. 1943.” In The Collection. Museum of Modern Art Web site. http://www.moma.org/collection.

The Jungle

» Wifredo Lam (Cuban, 1902–1982)

Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, like many of his Surrealist colleagues, was deeply interested in mysticism and mythology.

Many of the most prominent European Surrealist painters and writers, among whom he lived and worked during the 1920s and 1930s, influenced both his style and his subject matter. During his years in Europe, he also worked with Pablo Picasso, whose impact is unmistakable in many of Lam’s artworks and especially in The Jungle. Since the beginning of the century, Picasso had been collecting and studying traditional African masks and incorporating images of them into his paintings in place of more naturalistic depictions of faces. Lam uses this same strategy in an image like The Jungle, but in his work there is also a personal component. Lam’s ethnic and cultural heritage included the African diaspora in Cuba, and when he returned to the island in the 1940s, he became reengaged with the concerns of its Afro-Cuban community.

The Jungle is a huge painting with an extremely intricate, complex composition. There are four female figures in a row across the canvas. Difficult to make out, they seem interwoven among tall stalks of sugarcane, and their unnaturally long, straight limbs blend in with the similarly shaped plants. Lam’s interest in the traditional African religions practiced in the Caribbean—Santería in Cuba and Vodun in Haiti, for example—is suggested in the rightmost figure, which appears to be a woman-horse hybrid, a form characteristic of spiritual entities.

Clearly, this painting is no realistic representation of people in a specific natural environment. Rather, the artist has depicted a primordial vision of mythic forces. Even the painting’s title adds to the visionary qualities of his subject. To call it The Jungle suggests a search for some primitive culture. However, the plants Lam has included in his painting are sugarcane and tobacco, which are domesticated crops, not wild plants.

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