"Lam’s images of zoomorphic females express several different but interrelated ideas. The artist was appalled not only at the inferior social status forced upon black and mulatta women, such as his mother, but also at teh fact that prostitution of indigent women was a thriving industry in Cuba. In the days before Fidel Castro’s revolution and before the creation of Las Vegas as a destination for gambling and illicit sex, Havana was a prime locale for those activities. Most prostitutes were mulattas, frequented by white men who perpetuated the stereotype of dark-skinned women as promiscuous and sexually well-versed. According to one historian, ‘The city was lovingly referred to by those who hopped over from Miami as the ‘Little Latin Whorehouse.’ Some of Lam’s images represent prostitutes, but not as sexual objects. Lam identified the figure on the left in The Eternal Presence as a ‘whore’ representing the ‘degradation’ of her race. He felt that by conveying their strength and dignified repugnance, he honored prostitutes and their suffering.
Blatant exploitation of minority women occurred nightly in Lam’s own neighborhood in Havana, where the infamous Tropicana nightclub was located. Glitzy performances featured Afro-Cuban music and scantily clad women strutting and undulating in dances that trivialized their origins in Santería rituals. Lam disliked the fact that sacred music and dance were bastardized by white entrepreneurs into tawdry attractions for wealthy tourists. (An example that migrated to the United States was the song ‘Babalú-ayé' performed by Cuban-born Ricky Ricardo on the television show I Love Lucy in the early 1950s. Babalú-ayé is the orisha invoked to avoid infectious diseases, not a subject for entertainment.) Some Cuban artists capitalized on the tourist trade to sell paintings that reinforced racial and cultural stereotypes, like Victor Manuel’s saccharine Gypsy Girl from the Tropics (1930) and Eduardo Abela’s Triumph of the Rumba (1948). Lam hoped to claim greater dignity for Afro-Cuban sources in his art:
'I decided that my painting would never be the equivalent of that pseudo-Cuban music for nightclubs. I refused to paint cha-cha-cha. I wanted with all my heart to paint the drama of my country, but by thoroughly expressing the negro spirit, the beauty of the plastic art of the blacks. In this way I could act as a Trojan horse that would spew forth hallucinating figures with the power to surprise, to disturb the dreams of the exploiters.'”
-from Wifredo Lam in North America