Botero Paints the Horror of Abu Ghraib

On June 16 in the Palazzo Venezia, in Rome, the artist Fernando Botero will open a large exhibit, which will include 50 works on the tortures in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In a real world exclusive, the Magazine Diners reproduces this series that will cause a great controversy because of the rawness and current relevance of the theme.

‘Injustice makes my blood boil.’

Fernando Botero answers ten questions about Abu Ghraib from Paris for the Magazine Diners.

Why did you decide to paint this series about what happened in Abu Ghraib?

Because of the anger that I felt and that the whole world felt over this crime committed by the country that presents itself as the model of compassion, justice and civilization.

After painting the horror of the contemporary violence in Colombia, did you think that you had some commitment to also reflect this event of world violence?

In art one must always reevaluate ones ideas, to question oneself. I have always believed and taught that great art was always created on kinder themes, with very few exceptions. And this is true. For example, there are thousands of works done by the Impressionists, but I have not yet seen one that represents a dramatic theme. However, issues as burning as the violence in Colombia and now the torture in Abu Ghraib prison make one think differently.

At the time of the gestation or creation of these new works did you feel that there was some similarity between these two events of horror?

No. The situation is different. The violence in Colombia is almost always the product of ignorance, lack of education and social injustice. That of Abu Ghraib is a crime committed by the greatest armed force of the world, ignoring the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners.

Do you expect that this series, which will surely be controversial, will have a political effect on the world?

No. Art never had that power. The artist leaves a mark that acquires importance over time if the work is artistically valid.

How do you think the international community, especially the North American community, will receive your work, which is so dramatic on a real and current event?

These are works born of anger at such horror. How they would be received was not a consideration at the time that I made them.

Does the number of works that you painted on this theme call one’s attention? What was the process of investigation and creation?

I am addicted to the news, to newspapers and magazines. Besides, every day I look at the internet and I am informed. There have been many articles written on the theme, especially the powerful one that appeared in The New Yorker, which revealed the situation that exists in the U.S.-controlled jails. To the extent that I was informed I felt a greater need to say something about such a horror. Last year I began to draw and paint, and I have already created almost fifty works on this theme.

For which of these two kinds of work that you create do you believe you will be more remembered in the history of Colombian and universal art?

Time and history are big words with which I do not want to get involved.

Is it possible that in the future you will again paint a series specific to some current political theme?

Ii is very possible. Every time I feel more sensitive to injustice it makes my blood boil.

Aside from the exhibit in Rome next June, where will these pictures be shown?

These works will soon be showing in two museums, in June in Rome and in October in Germany. I have no intention of selling them. I will show them where they invite me to exhibit them, hopefully in the United States. One should not forget that the great majority of North Americans condemn the practice of torture. The press of that country has constantly denounced what happened in Abu Ghraib.

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