Three to see: London

Three to see: London

Wifredo Lam, Bélial, Emperor of the Flies (1948) (Private collection. © SDO Wifredo Lam)

More than 150 works of art dealing with mental illness and the history of Bethlem Royal Hospital—popularly known as Bedlam—are on show in Bedlam: the Asylum and Beyond (until 15 January 2017) at the Wellcome Collection. The exhibition explores our changing understanding of mental illness through work by patients such as James Tilly Matthews (who was confined for life as an “incurable lunatic”) and contemporary artists such as Eva Kot’átková. One highlight is a portrait by Richard Dadd, a well-known academy-trained artist who was committed to Bethlem in 1843 as a “criminal lunatic” after murdering his father.

Dinh Q. Lê’s The Colony (until 9 October) details the backbreaking harvesting of guano—bird shit, which is a highly prized organic fertiliser. The three-screen film installation follows both the nesting seabirds—using two drone cameras—who create the guano, and the workmen who collect it on the Chincha Islands near Peru. The breath-taking work is being shown in a former cinema in Peckham and has been organised by the non-profit commissioning body, Artangel.

The Cuban Modernist painter Wifredo Lam could rightly be considered—on the evidence of some of the works on show at Tate Modern (until 8 January)—to have been merely another 20th-century artist drawn to Paris and overwhelmingly influenced by Picasso and Matisse to the point of parody. It is when he shakes the ghosts of the two Modern masters in the later years of his career—and among other changes, turns to Surrealism—that his work finally shines. The highlights are three paintings made following a trip to Port-au-Prince in Haiti. The Wedding (1947), Nativity (1947) and Bélial, Emperor of the Flies (1948) mesh the influence of political unrest, religious symbolism and Vodou ceremonies in dark scenes—as though Screamin’ Jay Hawkins took to making and then howling Medieval manuscripts.