Fernando Botero: Painting Bush's TORTURE Policy With a Heavy Brush!

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Ms. A. Wombuster

Nov 4, 2007, 12:19:01 PM11/4/07
Thanks to the admired Colombian painter, the Bush "administration's"
criminal torture of prisoners of war will live beyond our time,
providing an enduring graphic documentation of the national
embarrassment and shame that are tied to the words, "ABU GHRAIB" !

As author ERICA JONG insightfully writes, Botero's "astonishing series
of drawings and paintings ... " provide "a permanent accusation" of
those whose oversight permitted the atrocities, "that the Americans
were torturing prisoners in the same prison as the tyrant they came to

We can only hope that widest public display of Botero's work will
cause those --who would deliberately crush and destroy the time-
honored legacies and heroics that made America a great and admired
nation -- to be held up to the international dishonor and castigation
they deserve.

"Botero Sees the World's True Heavies at Abu Ghraib"

By Erica Jong
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, November 4, 2007; M01

When we think about the Colombian artist Fernando Botero, most of us
visualize his roly-poly people flaunting their fat, their fashionable
headgear, their cigarettes and cigarette holders, their excess. I
never thought of these as political images until I saw Botero's Abu
Ghraib series in which hooded men dangle, upside down, and hideous
dogs claw and growl at manacled prisoners arranged into pyramids and
bleeding on each other.

Held by their hair, their hands, their manacles, the prisoners seldom
come face-to-face with their torturers. They are beaten by hands
outside the picture frame, urinated on by men whose faces rarely
appear. A bound prisoner wears red panties and a bra -- obviously
against his will. The torture is anonymous and masked. Even the
prisoners are masked so the torturers cannot be identified. But Botero
knows who they are. They are the same fat people whose antics he has
previously appeared to delight in.

As a result of this astonishing series of drawings and paintings, we
know he was not celebrating these people, only waiting for an
opportunity to show their true nature. They are cannibals who feed off
their brothers. They deal in the anguish of human flesh.

Fernando Botero, whose Abu Ghraib pictures will be on view at American
University starting this week, read about the torturers of Abu Ghraib
in the New Yorker, and made his own record of the horrors. He did not
invent anything that was not described, but because he is an artist,
we feel the terror of the tortured rather than the gloating of the
torturers -- so present in the photographs they took of themselves at
play in the blood of others.

Botero calls art "a permanent accusation," but his Abu Ghraib series
seems to me more than an accusation. Rather, it constitutes a complete
revision of whatever we have previously thought of Botero's work. (He
refuses to sell these works because he doesn't want to profit from the
pain of others. He plans to donate them to museums.)

What is this need people have to abuse each other, then boast about
it? What is this need to make others powerless before them, to see
them bleed and scream and beg for mercy? Psychologists theorize that
torturers are repeating their infantile impotence by inflicting it on
others. That seems glib to me. Empathy is a rare human quality, but it
is essential to our humanity.

But American torture is different from other tortures because of the
high opinion we have of our country and ourselves. Torture is
something others do. We are above that. We are reasonable people
governed by a great Enlightenment document we call The Constitution.
We help, not hurt people all over the world. It is the incongruity of
our image of ourselves versus the reality of our behavior that stings

Botero's Abu Ghraib series has been shown before, but never in
Washington. It is a moment: The people who got us into Abu Ghraib can
contemplate what went on there.

I dare them to look at these images and be unmoved.

The series's entry into the visual world has not been easy. In the Bay
Area, they were shown not in a museum, but in a library at the
University of California at Berkeley. Still 15,000 people saw them.

Susan Sontag wrote that the Abu Ghraib photographs showed "the
reigning admiration for unapologetic brutality." Is this true?

I doubt it. I think that most of the people who see these Botero
images will be as horrified as I am. Complicity in torture is
invisible to most people. They do not know what they can do to prevent
it -- hence their passivity.

Botero, inspired by Picasso's "Guernica," broke through his passivity
by making these works. Many people have contrasted them with his
supposedly "happy" fat people. I don't think Botero's fat people are
happy at all. I think they are also political -- the haves fattening
on the invisible have-nots.

"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," Botero said to the San Francisco Chronicle. "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 think Seymour Hersh's article was the
first one I read. I was on a plane and I took a pencil and paper and
started drawing. Then 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 visualize what was really happening there."

What will be our reaction to his visualization? Will we continue in
passivity? Will we deny that such horrors still take place? Or will
Botero's art have the power to change us?

We might also ask what power art can have in general. Did Goya stop
cruelty in his time, or Picasso in his? No. But the role of the artist
in raising our consciousness and bearing witness is essential. The
artist makes us open our eyes to our own cruelty, our own passivity,
our own indifference.

For that alone, his witnessing matters.

I am looking at another recent work by Botero in which a roly-poly
woman is stuffing her face with an apple as if she were a Christmas
pig. Before the Abu Ghraib series I would have shrugged off this
image. Now I see all Botero's work as a record of the brutality of the
haves against the have-nots. I would be surprised if the Abu Ghraib
series of images did not completely change our view of Botero as an

[Novelist, poet and nonfiction writer Erica Jong wrote a catalogue
essay for the Milan exhibition of Botero's Abu Ghraib pictures and has
a Botero sculpture of Eve with a snake and an apple in her apartment
in New York. Her most recent book is "Seducing the Demon: Writing for
My Life."]

(If you go: "Fernando Botero: Abu Ghraib" opens Tuesday at the
American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, at the
intersection of Massachusetts and Nebraska avenues NW, Washington,
D.C. Through Dec. 30. Open Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Free.


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