Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Painting Abu Ghraib 

Der Spiegel, Germany's leading news magazine, is publicizing the work of a Columbian artist who has seen inspiration in Abu Ghraib:
Columbian Painter Fernando Botero has become one of the first artists to use the horrors of Abu Ghraib as inspiration for his work. In a series of 50 oil paintings and sketches, which is to be exhibited in Rome on June 16, Botero graphically depicts the prisoner abuses at the Iraqi prison.

Here are examples of Botero's work:


Until he discovered Abu Ghraib, Botero was known for renditions -- some might call them parodies -- of Old Masters. Here, for example, is Botero's "Fatso Mona Lisa":

Not its real name!

Now Botero plans to break into the big leagues on the back of a wave of publicity. He sees opportunity at the intersection of mistreated Iraqis, political anti-Americanism and European sanctimony, and he is going to press at it until he is famous not just today, but to posterity:
Botero has used the now infamous photos, as well as written descriptions of the abuse, as sources for his work. He says that his aim is to burn the images onto the world's consciousness in the same way that Pablo Picasso's "Guernica" did for the Spanish Civil War. The exhibition is due to appear next in Germany.

You have to admire Botero's ambition. He has been pumping these babies out at the rate of at least one exhibitable painting a week since the scandal broke last year. It's as though he's completely given up on his Old Masters parody gig.

It is interesting that Botero has only now, at age 73, found a political cause to inspire his art. He does, after all, live in Columbia, a country with a long and recent history of shocking abuse of human rights:
Colombia’s forty-year internal armed conflict continues to be accompanied by widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Both guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups commit serious violations, including massacres, targeted assassinations, and kidnappings...

Units of the armed forces have historically maintained close ties to paramilitary groups, and have been implicated in the commission of atrocities in collusion with such groups. However, the government has yet to take credible action to break these ties. Impunity, particularly with respect to high-level military officials, remains the norm.

Apparently none of this was sufficiently tragic to distract Botero from mocking da Vinci.

Or maybe Botero just assumed that Europeans would not flock to see depictions of brutality in Latin America, but that he could buy his way into massive publicity in Europe if he took on the big, bad United States.

One can almost picture Botero's upcoming exhibit in Germany. What I wouldn't give to see a room full of Germans sipping fine Rhineland wine and ja-jaing about America's supposed atrocities in the world, secure in the knowledge that Botero would never mock them. After all, pictures of Auschwitz with fat corpses wouldn't be funny at all.



By Blogger Myrtus, at Wed Apr 27, 07:56:00 PM:

EEEK! I think Botero's paintings look disgusting and perverted. At first sight I thought the figures were kind of Asian looking, kinda Buddhaish. All I see is a twisted mind and an opportunist.
Thanks for sharing, TigerHawk. Great post! (:  

By Blogger Pile On®, at Wed Apr 27, 08:11:00 PM:

I smell a huge success. It smells foul, but he will be all the rage, nonetheless.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Wed Apr 27, 09:18:00 PM:

I'm with you, Pile. Botero is going from Elvis paintings on velvet -- or their moral equivalent -- to, er, anti-American porn on canvas. We're going to see these on T-shirts.  

By Blogger Gordon Smith, at Wed Apr 27, 10:39:00 PM:

Gotta love free market capitalism, eh?

While I'm not a big fan of El Porcino's style, the subject of torture is a legitimate lens through which to view many basic human problems. Death, power, helplessness, sexuality, religion, war, etc. are going to play a role in the development of art in this first part of the 21st century. The geopolitical situation ensures it.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Thu Apr 28, 09:00:00 AM:

I just wish he'd paint a few canvases showing Saddam's thugs putting people -- they could even be fat people -- feet first into industrial shredders. Needless to say, I won't hold my breath.  

By Blogger Pile On®, at Thu Apr 28, 12:39:00 PM:

Yes scurvyoaks, if the color scheme were right, I would love to have that hanging over my sofa.  

By Blogger Fausta, at Fri Apr 29, 10:46:00 AM:

I believe Botero moved to Paris and has been living there for a while.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Fri Apr 29, 02:41:00 PM:

Well, Fausta, that you explain a lot (at least according to your view of the world!). ;)  

By Blogger blah, at Mon May 02, 12:47:00 PM:

So its not ok to go to war for oil. But its ok to make fun of abused prisoners for money. Great. I'm sure it would go over great if he sold easybake Auschwitz ovens. Its art.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat May 07, 04:08:00 PM:

You Nazi pigs. Every one of you.
The artist isn't an opportunist, he's an observer. He paints rounded characters because that's his style. It has been for a long time.
He doesn't need the money because Botero is already loaded and successful internationally. He is taking a risk by painting these pictures, no risk if he didn't. He is following a tradition of artists commenting on political events around them...see Picasso, Kahlo, and others.
The events he is depicting were foul, not the art made from them. Don't shoot the messenger, you stupid, narrowminded Nazi pigs.
People like you truly disturb me. You kill off independent thought.

And don't forget you morons, who put Saddam in power? Who got him there and supplied the weapons? The...C...I...A...

Burn in hell, art hating pigs.


By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat May 07, 09:24:00 PM:

Last Anonymous Guy, you need to chill. If Botero is going to use his art as a political weapon, then we are certainly free to point out that he has had ample opportunity in his life to speak out against injustice, and he seems to have waited to speak out about the most widely-publicized injustice one might imagine. This hardly makes him the equivalent of Picasso revealing the hidden atrocities of the Spanish civil war. He may indeed be genuinely outraged by Abu Ghraib, but it is hard to imagine a less widely publicized atrocity. There is no courage in his art.

Separately, did it ever occur to you how silly it is to call somebody a "stupid, narrowminded Nazi pig" and suggest they "burn in hell"? You are the only person on this thread who seems to deplore speech itself, rather than its content.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat May 07, 10:37:00 PM:

I don't know bout the elvis painting on velvet comment. The fat Mona Lisa certainly gives that impression but he's just about as sophisticated as any of the surrealists.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun May 08, 09:41:00 AM:

I admit I'm a Philistine. Call me a bonehead, but I think that recreating Old Masters in a different style -- especially the same different style -- is highly derivative, and probably parody. If the "Elvis painting on velvet" comment offended your sensibilities, please accept my apology.

In any case, Botero's status as an artist -- that is, the respect that he is accorded in that capacity -- should not protect him from the charge that he is exploiting Abu Ghraib. Whether that is for profit, fame, or to achieve a political objective, that is what he is doing, and he is quite candid about it. My observation in return is simply this: given that Botero's life has spanned many atrocities far more in need of publicity than this one, his motive, if not venal, must be rank anti-Americanism.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun May 08, 11:48:00 AM:

I'm the original anonymous poster from above.
I love speech, I love using it, including expressing how sickened I am by the weird wave of fascism that is common in American thought now.
I don't want to chill, asshole.
I'm Canadian, and used to observing the U.S. I've never seen anything like this in my life. The brutality, the demented self-righteousness ( invade SAUDI ARABIA if you're going to invade anybody - they funded 9/11 ) and the complicity of the media is disturbing.
The high profile of the torture photos hardly makes this an easy choice for an artist. And so what if it were? It's valid subject matter. The only reason the atrocities Picasso documented weren't widespread was because of media access. Anyway, the acts here in the U.S. haven't been punished, except the white trash zombies in the photos. The White House complained bitterly not that the acts happened but that the photos were released - all this lack of responsibility despite the photos' ubiquity.
That you idiots can say an artist is attacking America by addressing the torture in those photos is really bizarre - would endorsing and ignoring these acts be pro-American? American soldiers are going to be killed, fuelled by the acts in those pix. Maybe somebody you know.
Forget the burn in hell part, we're almost there anyway.
You can love your country and be deeply suspicious of the people in control of it. It's okay, give it a shot.  

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By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Sep 26, 01:49:00 PM:

This is the site of a sick freak
my grandmother died in auschwitz
And this is Sick!
you are a warped sad man  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Oct 28, 03:03:00 AM:

Re: the first comment about ignoring human rights abuses in Colombia...it might interest you to note that one of Botero's first paintings in Colombia, one that one a national prize, was of a torture scene in his own country.

I'm glad he's doing this art. I don't care for his style much. He certainly doesn't need the money (he's a multimillionaire). But the abuses our country committed need to be acknowledged, so that hopefully they don't happen again.

Bottom line, art is supposed to promote discussion, so it's doing its job.

From a military wife.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 20, 03:23:00 PM:

I am so sick of you people crying "opportunist" and "capitalist" at any artist who presents subject matter that you don't agree with, or find controversial. Maybe you're projecting, because that is what YOU would do if you could create art.

Botero has stated that he does not plan to sell the paintings, but instead intends to donate them to museums as a reminder of the events depicted within. He is not making fun of the victims or events, but making sure that we never forget what happened, or let it happen again.  

By Blogger Ashley Nichols, at Tue May 20, 03:02:00 PM:

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I THINK.. that the anonymous person has nothing better to do with his/her time and only continues to sound ignorant and uneducated as they go on about something they clearly don't understand. Everybody has their own opinion. get over it.  

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By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 21, 08:59:00 AM:

Artist are allowed to be inspired by world events. Get over yourselfs. You really don't have to cry and complain about everything, it happened, he didn't do it, he just made a painting about it..bands do this stuff all the time.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Dec 30, 12:59:00 PM:

Dude I guess you just don't who Botero is, because he's been doing paintings on the brutality in Colombia for years, ever seen his Pablo Escobar painting? Due to your commentary I'm guessing you haven't. In the future, perhaps you should actually know what your talking about before you slam somebody.  

By Blogger Electro, at Sat Jan 02, 02:51:00 PM:

Such nonsense. Botero was a world famous artist before and after his Abu Graib series. Why are you so defensive about the criminal actions committed by the US government that you'd claim Botero was using it "get famous" To say that at 73 he discovered politics is to say that you know nothing about his work. Settling for the first image found by Google Images is not the same as studying his past output. Get a little more in-depth (say, borrowing a book from the library for starters) would show you his series from the late 90s on the Colombian Drug Cartel violence.

He's already well known and "in the big leagues." You are not. Stop defending America when it commits a crime. A crime is a crime no matter who commits it.  

By Blogger Unknown, at Fri Feb 05, 09:22:00 PM:

Botero is in the artistic minor leagues and is opportunistically misguided. His art, questionable in merit, quality, or public appeal is of 3rd tier caliber. He has hardly been a strong, prolific voice on any social matter as his focus is on a rotund distortion or characterizations of earlier masterpieces. Originality, intellectual integrity, and insight seem to elude this Colombian pedestrian aspiring artist.  

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