Birthplace of Cuban Painter Wilfredo Lam Collapses in Sagua la Grande

The remains of Wifredo Lam’s house in Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 October 2019 —  The birthplace of renowned Cuban painter Wifredo Lam collapsed last Sunday in Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara, after heavy rains hit the central region of Cuba. The collapse of the home has generated many criticisms on social networks but no official statement.

The property, located on Carmen Ribalta Street between Heredia and Betances, was inhabited by a family that had no blood ties with Lam. The entire structure of the building had been seriously deteriorating for years, due to lack of maintenance and the passage of time.

According to OnCuba magazine, which quotes the National Council of Cultural Heritage, the wooden house had a high historical value because  the famous painter, “who introduced Afro-Cuban culture into avant-garde art, with its myths and symbols,” was born there on December 8, 1902.

Miguel Jiménez, a native of Sagua la Grande, reported the collapse of the building on Facebook and insisted that the authorities knew the degree of deterioration of the property.

“It was not surprising, it was foreseen to happen at any moment and at any hour, since this house was still in critical condition on the verge of collapse,” Jiménez said on the social network.

According to the Sagüero (resident of Sagua la Grande), the house where the painter lived in Marianao, Havana, is also in danger of collapse.

Son of a Cantonese Chinese and a mixed-race Cuban woman, Lam not only had a mixture of blood, but also of colors and cultures. The Lucumi gods, Yoruba beliefs, fused with the Catholic imaginary and Asian iconography populated his work. From a young age he showed great talent for drawing and his father encouraged him to enroll in the school of painting and sculpture in Havana and he later obtained a scholarship for Fine Arts of San Fernando, in Madrid.

In Spain he was surprised by the birth of the Republic, he had contact with García Lorca, Valle-Inclán, Miguel Ángel Asturias and Alejo Carpentier. In 1938 he decided to move to France, where he met Picasso and joined the intense artistic bohemia of the capital. With the entry of the Nazis in Paris, he went into exile in Marseille where he approached André Breton and Benjamin Péret and also became involved in late surrealism.

He returned to Cuba on several occasions to organize events, exhibitions and participate in Congresses. His last trip in life would be for the burial of Carpentier in 1980 and two years later his ashes arrived in Havana to be buried in the Colón Cemetery. He is considered the most universal of Cuban painters of all time. His work was characterized by esoteric syncretism, the influences of surrealism and cubism, along with the finding of his own lines in which his multiculturalism was expressed.

Cuba has a very deteriorated housing stock of 3.8 million homes. Since the end of Soviet subsidies, which totalled around 65 billion dollars, the Island has faced a severe economic crisis and more than 40% of homes are considered in poor or bad condition according to official figures.

It is estimated that to cover the housing deficit in the country it is necessary to build 880,000 houses, but the State does not have the funds to do so and forces expensive and slow bureaucratic procedures on citizens who want to invest in improving their homes.


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