Thursday, June 28, 2007

Old Drawing

Below is one of my early 1990s charcoal and conte drawings of Mantonica Wilson, who was Wifredo Lam's formidable godmother and the woman who was probably the most direct influence for Lam ever becoming one of the best-known artists of the Surrealist movement, and perhaps of the 20th century, despite his later subservient, lackey attitude to Castro's repressive regime.

Mantonica Wilson by F. Lennox Campello, circa 1994.

During the latter half of the 19th century, many immigrants arrived in Cuba, mostly from Europe, but also huge numbers from China. One such immigrant was a Cantonese man by the name of Lam Yam, who settled in Sagua La Grande in the province of Las Villas.

There Lam Yam married a much younger Cuban woman of African, European and Native American ancestry, and eight children were born from this marriage. In 1902, when Lam Yam was 84 years old, his eighth child was born: Wifredo Oscar de la Concepcion Lam y Castillo.

My drawing of Mantonica is derived from a 1900 photograph that shows a gigantic, strong woman, who also happened to be a powerful Santeria practitioner of pure Yoruba ancestry.

It was through her Santeria practices that the young Lam was introduced to the African-based rituals and images that would later influence and people his artwork. And it was probably at Wilson's urgings (and possible financial assistance), that the young Lam was sent to study art in Europe in order to avoid the Cuban societal limits set because of his race.

It is often through the strong will and influence of others, that genius takes seed and given an opportunity to grow. My drawing is an homage to such a person.

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A new growing website (complete with videos) provides fascinating insights about Philadelphia's First Friday art scene -- and about how artists and galleries revitalized an urban neighborhood. You can check it out at