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Created: May 9, 2005
Latest Update: May 9, 2005
This backup copy is to be used only if the original site on the Web is not accessible. It is meant to preserve the document for teaching purposes, when sometimes the URLS are changed when sites are updated, or sites are eliminated. Please be certain to give credit if you refer to this to the original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/08/international/americas/08botero.html. Original URL, consulted: May 8, 2005.
May 8, 2005
'Great Crime' at Abu Ghraib Enrages and Inspires an Artist
By JUAN FORERO
BOGOTÁ, Colombia, May 7 - Fernando Botero, Latin America's best-known living artist, shocked the art world last year when he broke sharply from his usual depictions of small town life to reveal new works that depicted Colombia's war in horrific detail.
Now, Mr. Botero, 73, who lives in Paris and New York, has taken on an even more explosive topic: the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Forty-eight paintings and sketches - of naked prisoners attacked by dogs, dangling from ropes, beaten by guards, in a mangled heap of bodies - will be exhibited in Rome at the Palazzo Venezia museum on June 16.
"These works are a result of the indignation that the violations in Iraq produced in me and the rest of the world," Mr. Botero said by telephone from his Paris studio.
"I began to do some very fluid drawings, and then I began to paint and the results are 50 works inspired by this great crime."
Mr. Botero said the paintings and sketches, done in oils, pencil and charcoal and part of a 170-piece traveling exhibition, would also be shown at the Würth Museum in Germany in October and at the Pinacoteca in Athens next year before returning to Germany. The exhibition was first made public last month, when Diners, a Colombian magazine, published photographs of the works.
Mr. Botero's work had, until recently, not been known for making political statements. Instead, for 50 years, his paintings had been associated with the placid, pastoral scenes of the small-town Colombia of his childhood, featuring ordinary people, aristocrats, military officers and nuns, all of them extravagantly corpulent.
But last year, his paintings of Colombia's long guerrilla war, full of blood, agony and senseless violence, became a big draw in European galleries, surprising followers astonished by Mr. Botero's bold departure in substance, if not style. Mr. Botero explained that he had decided he could not stay silent over a conflict he called absurd.
Now, he said, his indignation over war and brutality may turn up increasingly in his work.
"I rethought my idea of what to paint and that permitted me to do the war in Colombia, and now there's this," he said. "And if there's something else that compels me in the future, then I will do it."
Mr. Botero, citing the Impressionists and the many works of a favorite of his, Velásquez, said he had once thought that art should be inoffensive, since "it doesn't have the capacity to change anything."
But with time, and his growing outrage, Mr. Botero said he had become more cognizant that art could and should make a statement.
He pointed to the most famous antiwar painting of the 20th century, Picasso's masterpiece that depicted the German bombing of Guernica, Spain. Had Picasso not produced "Guernica," Mr. Botero said, the town would have been another footnote in the Spanish Civil War.
He said he read about Abu Ghraib in The New Yorker, then followed European news accounts. Calling himself an admirer of the United States - one of his sons lives in Miami - Mr. Botero said he became incensed because he expected better of the American government.
His new paintings and sketches - conceived not from photographs or specific acts of torture but rather from his reading of news reports - depict gruesome scenes of prison abuse. One inmate hangs from the ceiling, a rope around his ankle. Another work shows a soldier beating a prisoner with a baton, while yet another portrays a soldier urinating on an inmate. In many of the works, inmates simply scream in pain.
Mr. Botero said the works being exhibited, and those he has continued to create on Abu Ghraib, were not for sale because it would not be proper to profit from such events.
In Europe, where sentiment against the Iraq war is strong and Mr. Botero's work is well received, news of the paintings and sketches has already generated interest. In Germany, museums in Hanover and Baden Baden want to stage exhibitions exclusively of Mr. Botero's works on Abu Ghraib.
No exhibitions in the United States are planned, though Mr. Botero said he would like nothing more.
His previous works are on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and many others.
"If any museum wants to show works of torture, well, I would be delighted," Mr. Botero said. "The museum that decides to show it would have to be conscious that many people would be repulsed and be against it."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company