“Motherhood” by Wifredo Lam, 1939 Unit

“Motherhood”by Wifredo Lam, 1939



Thepainting “motherhood” features an abstract portrait image of whatappears to be a woman sitting down holding a child. However, thewoman who is presumably the mother of the child seems not to hold thechild but it is the child who holds onto the mother tightly. Thepainting, which was created by Cuban artist, Wifredo Lam is ondisplay at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago. Having been born ofa Chinese father and African mother in 1902, Lam developed across-cultural style of painting that combined Western modernism withAfrican and Caribbean symbolism. Although his style of paintingchanged throughout his career, his early styles around 1939 when thisparticular painting was created was influenced by Cubism andSurrealism. This is captured by the large hand and feet, blank ovalfaces and use of geometrical straight lines. Before Lam moved toEurope, his works only had Cuban and African themes (Sims and Wifredo12).


Thepainting, which can be compared to a shaded or colored doodle made bya child due to the lack of details, gives emphasis on lines, forms,and emotions. At the upper end of the painting is what appears to bethe ceiling, which is depicted through lines. The wall and the cornerto the right are depicted by a straight line running from the bottomtouching the ceiling. The painting uses color and texture minimallyas is custom of Lam. This aids emphasizing on the focal point whichconnection between the mother and child. Again, this is achievedthrough rhythm of brush strokes in making parallel lines on the lowerpart and on the upper part of the painting and also in adding color.The same lines also enable the artist to achieve symmetry and balanceespecially between the upper and lower parts.


Theartwork captures emotions of grief and distance. One of the mother’shands is placed on her head, a posture associated with sadness oreven wailing. The blank faces and the manner in which the child’slarge hands grab at the mother whilst the mother is uninterestedcapture conflict. The mother’s head is a full oval but the child’shead seems to be cut off by the mother’s hand. This could mean thatthe mother wants the child to leave so as he can develop on his ownbut the child is unwilling to leave her bosom. In fact, the emphasison the breasts on the child suggests a maturing girl refusing to growup and take care of herself. The title of “motherhood” thuscaptures the troubles mothers face in taking care of children who donot want to mature up and take care of themselves which makes theartwork relevant to all audiences. The artwork shows the blending ofabstract cubism and surrealism and captures how modern day artistscan blend different styles in their work.


Thesimplicity of the abstract work is well captured in the image. Whatmakes it interesting is how it engages the audience and me inparticular in attempting to understand the message that the artist isputting across. The little details included in the painting allow theaudience more space to include their interpretation and meaning. Avery detailed painting is likely to fail in engaging the audience increating meaning. I therefore feel that the Lam was successful incommunicating to his audience a hidden meaning. Therefore, I thingthe artwork says something about our society, beliefs or concerns. Iwould thus rate the piece as exceptional.


Lam,Wifredo. Motherhood,1939. Web.

Sims,Lowery and Wifredo, Lam. WifredoLam and the international Avant-Garde, 1923-

1982.Houston: University of Texas Press, 2002. Print.