You may not know the name Wifredo Lam but his body of work and legacy are the stuff of legend. Born in Cuba to a Chinese father and African mother, both slaves, Lam was educated in Madrid in the 1920s. He encountered Cubism and Surrealism in Paris, collaborated with André Breton in the 1940s and worked alongside Lucio Fontana and the situationists in Europe in the 1960s. The result is Lam’s work straddles the space between East and West, Surrealism and tradition, Africa and the Caribbean, and Europe and America. He became firm friends with Pablo Picasso, Man Ray and Jackson Pollock along the way. Lam’s interest in African sculpture and masks inspired Picasso, and aspects of that influence percolated into Cubism. Latterly, New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has claimed Lam was one of his great artistic heroes, and Lam remains the only modern Chinese master with a Western influence. A sign that the unlikely artistic hero’s moment at the centre of global modernism is at hand comes this September at the newly revamped Tate Modern in London, which will stage its first showing of Lam’s work since 1952.
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