Works On Paper Collection

Wifredo Lam

Your Own Life (Ta propre vie)


Sagua la Grande, Cuba, 1902—Paris, France, 1982
Your Own Life (Ta propre vie), 1942
Gouache on paper
41 1/2 x 34 inches

Cuban-born artist Wifredo Lam created Ta Propre Vie (Your Own Life) in 1942, the year after returning to Cuba from Paris, fleeing German occupation. Back in Cuba, Lam developed a new style bringing together Surrealism and Cubism with his knowledge of African art, Afro-Cuban culture, and Caribbean foliage. Lam often painted hybrid beings as shown here, with human, animal, and botanical features. Ta Propre Vie (Your Own Life) is a frontal, fragmented portrait showing an animal figure in the center of a bisected face with plenteous eyes, a crown clustered with leaves, and the wispy profile of the artist’s German wife, Helena Holzer, in the background. Lam’s hybrid figures are often attributed to his experience navigating European art circles as an artist of Chinese, Spanish, and African descent.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Lam lived first in Madrid and then Paris, befriending Picasso and becoming affiliated with the Surrealists. Lam wrote: “I went to Europe to escape my homeland. I thought this journey would resolve everything. But in Europe I encountered other problems as oppressive as those I left behind. My return to Cuba meant, above all, a great stimulation of my imagination, as well as exteriorization of my world. I responded always to the presence of factors which emanated from our history and our geography, tropical flowers and black culture.”