Wifredo Lam

God of the Crossroads by Wifredo Lam

I find Wifredo Lam’s paintings kind of creepy. The Afro-Cuban ghosts and jungle animals stare at me, as if they can read deep inside my mind. Their round eyes are telling me that they seem to be scared by what they see in me.

When I look at this painting God of the Crossroads, I imagine taking on a voyage up the Congo River like in Heart of Darkness. At some point, the river forks into two branches. I stop my boat, trying to decide which way to go. Suddenly, when I glance at the riverbank, I see a faint image of the God of the Crossroads through the dense foliage. It looks at me as if it already knows which direction my subconscious mind wants to take. It is telling me that direction is wrong, but I have no idea which direction I am secretly thinking about. The God of the Crossroads fades away, leaving me alone in the middle of the waterways…

God of the Crossroads

The Sombre Malembo, God of the Crossroads (1943)

The Hidden Banana Grove

Adapted from The Peach Blossom Spring (421 AD) by Tao Yuanming, inspired by The Jungle (1943) by Wifredo Lam.

Once upon a time, there was a National Geographic photographer filming wildlife in a remote rainforest. While drifting along a river and looking for the most picturesque red-eyed tree frog, he suddenly came upon a banana grove which extended along the river bank for about a hundred yards. The banana grove was so magically free from the usual hustles and bustles of the rainforest, and the ground around the banana trees was covered by white and purple orchids. At the end of the grove, he saw a spring which came from a cave.

A hardly visible weak light in the cave encouraged the National Geographic photographer to tie up his boat and explore further. At first the opening of the cave was very narrow, barely wide enough for one person to go in. After a dozen steps, it opened into a flood of light. He saw before his eyes a wide, level valley, with houses and fields and farms. There were cacao and coffee plants; farmers were working and butterflies were flying around to pollinate the plants.

Everyone in the mysterious land appeared very happy and contented. They were greatly astonished to see the photographer and asked him where he had come from. The photographer told them about the National Geographic magazine and was invited to their homes, where coffee was served and chocolate was prepared to entertain him. They said that their ancestors had come here as refugees to escape from the tyranny of Henry VIII some five hundred years ago, and they had never left it. They were thus completely cut off from the world, and asked what was the ruling dynasty now. They had not even heard of the Glorious Revolution, not to speak of Donald Trump. The photographer told them about current affairs, which they heard with great amazement. Many of the other villagers then began to invite him to their homes by turn and feed him dinner and pineapple juice. After a few days, when he left, the villagers begged him not to tell the people outside about their colony.

The man found his raft and came back along the river, marking with signs along the route. He produced an extensive special edition for the National Geographic, but no one in the press believed him. The National Geographic sent someone to go with him and find the place. They looked for the signs but got lost and could never find it again. Since then, no one has gone in search of the hidden banana grove.

thejungle

The Jungle (1943), by Wifredo Lam, gouache on paper mounted on canvas