Founded under the sign of the painter Wifredo Lam (1902-1982), the Havana Biennial had among its main conceptual axes the question of the African influence in Cuban culture. For the creators of the Biennial, Lam’s personal trajectory – son of a Chinese father and a Cuban mother of African-Spanish descent – embodied not only the Third World imagery sought by the show at the time, but also the representation of the Afro-Cuban presence in the visual arts.
During the first edition of the Biennial (1984) an International Conference on Wifredo Lam was organized. In this conference, curator Lowery Stokes Sims cited the encounter between Lam and Aimé Césaire in 1941, and the influence of Léopold Sédar Senghor’s négritude as decisive factors leading the artist to assume the “africanity” in his own work. According to Stokes Sims, Lam “made use of familiar Afro-Cuban rituals and myths from childhood to create a unique and very personal modernist approach” (1) to his art. A forefront condition that, years later, would be emphasized by Gerardo Mosquera when claiming that Lam was the first American artist to express the “African element” in modern art. (2)
“The work of the Cuban artist is an achievement that can be […] related to négritude as a conscious and neological construction of a black paradigm. […] Fascinated by African and ‘primitive’ elements, thanks to modern art, he had begun to give outward expression to the ‘African’ and ‘primitive’ aspects of himself”, according to Gerardo Mosquera.