Négritude was a movement that celebrated blackness in the face of racism, colonialism, and fascism. It began in the 1930s with Afro-Carribean poets like Aimé Césaire and spread quickly throughout the African diaspora. The movement flipped the script on French colonialism by using Paris as a node to connect Afro-Caribbean writers like Césaire with African writers like Léopold Sédar Senghor, who later became the first president of an independent Senegal.
Négritude spread to the visual arts as well. Wilfredo Lam was a Cuban artist of Spanish, African, and Chinese descent and he insisted upon the importance of the African diaspora to Cuba and to modern art globally. Lam studied with recognized masters of modern art in Paris, like the Cubist Pablo Picasso and the Surrealist André Breton. But he resisted their treatment of African visual culture. “I could act as a Trojan horse that would spew forth hallucinating figures with the power to surprise,” he explained, “to disturb the dreams of the exploiters.” The artist created striking, hybrid figures that call everything into question.
Image: Wifredo Lam, Arpas cardinales (Cardinal Harps) (1948-1957). Oil and charcoal on canvas. 83 ½ × 77 ¼ in. (212.1 × 196.2 cm.) © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris