15.9 C
New York
Friday, September 22, 2023

Fernando Botero confronted horror with his ‘Abu Ghraib’ series

How Fernando Botero confronted sheer horror with his ‘Abu Ghraib’ series

(Credits: Far Out / Fernando Botero / YouTube Still / ArtHive)


When pictures of the human rights abuses going on inside Abu Ghraib were released, the world recoiled. Throughout the Iraq War, members of the US Army committed a slew of human rights violations against Iraqi prisoners so horrific that the photographic evidence was often withheld from news reports. But Fernando Botero‘s series, inspired by the horrendous acts, refused to let people look away. The way he confronted the sheer horror in his work remains one of the most singular pieces of political artwork in the 20th century.

Up until the 2005 series, Botero’s niche was deformed figures. His work was light, with an almost childlike abandon of perspective, full of what he referred to as his “fat people”. Their faces were moonlike and delightfully absurd, their increasingly bizarre shapes dubbed “Boterismo” work after the style he pioneered. They were always cheerful pieces, and the way they seemed to revel in their own silliness made Botero a huge commercial success despite critics often dismissing his play on proportion as a gimmick.

Aged 74, having enjoyed a hugely successful career that saw Sylvester Stallone and Jack Nicholson snap up his paintings, Botero surprised fans with his more jovial output by devoting his artistic energy to a huge series of drawings and paintings depicting the torture at Abu Ghraib. Seymour Hersh’s 2004 article on the appalling, criminal treatment of prisoners was the first one Botero read, and he soon found himself thinking about it on a plane. He took out a pencil and paper and started drawing, and what followed was 87 complete paintings and drawings brutally examining the events through his lens.

“The whole world and myself were very shocked that the Americans were torturing prisoners in the same prison as the tyrant they came to remove,” he explained to SFGATE. “The United States presents itself as a defender of human rights, and of course, as an artist, I was very shocked with this and angry. The more I read, the more I was motivated. I got to my studio and continued with oil paintings. I studied all the material I could. It didn’t make sense to copy, I was just trying to visualise what was really happening there.”

The work was not only a shocking departure from his usual output but was divisive more generally. Botero was accused of trying to profit from the tragedy and incite “Anti-American” sentiment. On the former, he had to continually insist none of the pieces were not for sale. He offered to give them to any museum in the world for free, so long as they were prepared to keep them visible at all times.

His own New York gallery was inundated with hate mail when he showed the series for the first time in the US, and he spent his remaining years arguing he was not trying to stir up anti-American rhetoric. “Anti-brutality, anti-inhumanity, yes,” he said. “I follow politics very closely. I read several newspapers every day. And I have a great admiration for this country. I’m sure the vast majority of people here don’t approve of this. And the American press is the one that told the world this is going on. You have freedom of the press that makes such a thing possible.”

Botero was happy to shoulder the responsibility of telling the Abu Ghraib story because it brought a quiet reflection on the matter in a slightly less confronting way than the original photographs. What he painted was still barbaric, but the balm of his oil paint and consistently bloated figures made it somewhat more digestible. The point was not that it should’ve been easy viewing – but necessary.

“Art is important in time,” he said. “We have analysed this thing from editorial pages and books, but somehow, this vision by an artist completes what happened. He can make visible what’s invisible, what cannot be photographed. In a photo, you just do a click, but in art, you have to put in so much energy. This concentration of energy and attention says something that other media cannot say.”

He compared his series to Picasso’s Guernica, one of the most potent anti-war statements in art history. When Botero died at age 91, there were mass outpourings of grief from the art world, all celebrating him for doing just what Picasso had. After spending a career painting garish figures, the ugliest contortion of all was rooted in reality.

“Art is important,” Botero said in the years before his death, “Because when people start to forget, art reminds them what happened.”

Source link

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest Articles