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Botero
June 21, 2005 5:39 PM   Subscribe

Fernando Botero on Abu Ghraib Fernando Botero, the Colombian artist best-known for his odd and cute depictions of fleshy men and women, has just opened an exhibition in Rome featuring his own interpretations of the Abu Ghraib abuses. Expect to be shocked all over again - which is apparently exactly what he wants. (Link in Spanish).
posted by Holly (45 comments total)

 
more horrifying than the photographs. thank you for the link.
posted by infini at 5:53 PM on June 21, 2005


stunning.
posted by VulcanMike at 6:05 PM on June 21, 2005


All the more shocking since it comes from an artist whose images have always made me smile, and have never carried (to my eyes) a hint of malice. Weird that he would choose to take this course of action, artistically.
posted by jonson at 6:21 PM on June 21, 2005


wow. thanks for the link. wow.
posted by mr.marx at 6:28 PM on June 21, 2005


not that surprising, considering he would copy goyas as a student.

regardless, i think there is something vile about appropriating the suffering of those who were (and possibly continue to be) brutalized. this is not his story to tell. i see here nothing but the selfsame endlessly reproduced photos, which themselves have become media clichés and now stand as little more than generic expressions of US brutality, translated into an even more cartoonish, vacuous dimensions. if there is a way to restore a genuine human dimension of suffering to these scenes, he is not the person to do it, and this is not the way it is to be done.
posted by ori at 6:42 PM on June 21, 2005


Thanks for this link. It makes me furious all over again. By the way, volunteer torturer Lynndie England wore the first maternity combat camoflage I have seen.
posted by longsleeves at 6:44 PM on June 21, 2005


and jonson, i think you should look a little closer. his images were always extremely menacing beneath the surface [man with a dog, 1989]
posted by ori at 6:44 PM on June 21, 2005


terrific link! thanks!
posted by tsarfan at 6:49 PM on June 21, 2005


orl, this is a story for anyone/everyone to tell and/or document by whatever method is most effective.

Botero's images are extremely effective.

[ditto infini]
posted by HyperBlue at 6:56 PM on June 21, 2005


regardless, i think there is something vile about appropriating the suffering of those who were (and possibly continue to be) brutalized. this is not his story to tell.

What the fuck? I have no idea what you mean by that. If he is outraged by the idea of what happened, then he has every right to try to communicate that outrage. Is Steven Spielberg profiting from the holocaust by making Shindler's List?

In this thread and the one about insomnia_lj's photos we get self-righteous people complaining about the motives of the person creating or distributing the images, rather then what the images convey.

I think the images were good at convening emotion, if you don't think so, that's fine. but I don't see how it's possible to criticize him for simply trying, unless you wish they would just go away.
posted by delmoi at 6:57 PM on June 21, 2005


He's a great artist with a wonderful style, and this is a political action worth taking for him.

Still, I can't help but think: It looks like they're torturing Cabbage Patch kids.
posted by fungible at 7:16 PM on June 21, 2005


Those were pretty funny.
Nothing like hopping on the band wagon.
posted by HTuttle at 7:37 PM on June 21, 2005


seems like artists can still do something, even if it's only poking small people into making stupid comments.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:52 PM on June 21, 2005


I've not been a big fan of his (with the exception of a few amusing sculptures), but I think these are pretty powerful. I understand how it might seem distasteful and these are fairly literal, but some people have a very hard time looking at photographs or video footage, they just shut them out. Sometimes this is exactly what it takes to get those people engaged.

I think the Spielberg comparison is spot on.
posted by lazymonster at 7:57 PM on June 21, 2005


"...unless you wish they would just go away."

Bingo.
posted by cookie-k at 8:34 PM on June 21, 2005


It is a little odd he'd be so outraged at the US abuses -- he's Columbian for chrissakes. Lord knows nothing outrageous has ever happened there . . .

That said, interesting work. It's simultaneously banal, cute and vaguely disturbing/profitable.

Is Steven Spielberg profiting from the holocaust by making Shindler's List?

Is this a trick quesiton? Yes, he is profiting from the Holocaust, obviously. The film made money, right?
posted by undule at 8:46 PM on June 21, 2005


G's US! Get it? What are these people praying to? Frickin UFOs? Keep up the good work.
posted by nervousfritz at 8:48 PM on June 21, 2005


All this 'outrage' must be great for business.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 9:03 PM on June 21, 2005


It is a little odd he'd be so outraged at the US abuses -- he's Columbian for chrissakes. Lord knows nothing outrageous has ever happened there . . .

This is addressed in the link. My translations:

Q: Why did you decide to paint this series regarding the events of Abu Ghraib?

A: Because of the ire I and the entire world felt regarding this crime, committed by the nation which had presented itself as a model of compassion, justice and civilization.

Q: When you were creating these works did you feel any connection between [these events and the violence in Colombia]?

A: No. The situations are entirely distinct. The violence in Colombia almost always is the product of ignorance, lack of education and social injustice. The events at Abu Ghraib, however, was a crime commited by the greatest military organization of the world which had willfuly decided to disregard the tenets of the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of prisoners.


That said, artistically, I've always thought of Botero as a hack. This seems like an attempt to put himself back in the spotlight.
posted by vacapinta at 9:09 PM on June 21, 2005


Q: Why did you decide to paint this series regarding the events of Abu Ghraib?

A: Because of the ire I and the entire world felt regarding this crime, committed by the nation which had presented itself as a model of compassion, justice and civilization.


everyone tortures, kids, and iran also presents itself as the vanguard of morality. but botero is not drawing zahra kazemi anytime soon. he is riding the ripples of a cultural cliche.

it's hard to say what qualifies a person to tell a story -- it is not neccessarily a shared ethno-religious identity with the victims (i think w.g. sebald's book austerlitz is a superb example). probably it is a certain painful comprehension of the anguish of others -- either through personal association or a more tenuous, metaphoric, but no less legitimate association. i don't think he understands the hurt and shame this causes to the islamic world, or the horror this is causing to the concentious in the west. i think he's just replicating the pop culture OMGWTF! reaction. and inflating the girth. not much more.

fwiw, i also find schiendler's list problematic on many, many levels.
posted by ori at 9:47 PM on June 21, 2005


even still, it's not hard to understand why a jew still feels the ripples of the holocaust. the connection is a bit more tenuous when we talk petit-bourgeois latin american artists with genteel european education painting about the US/Islamic world rift. what, did he really feel betrayed by abu gharib? i'd bet money he wasn't a fan of US foreign policy way beforehand.
posted by ori at 9:49 PM on June 21, 2005


"All this 'outrage' must be great for business." I bet it really is. Still the 'outrage' seems warranted. " I've always thought of Botero as a hack" Sort of like Thomas Kinkade filtered through Gabriel García Márquez?
posted by arse_hat at 9:51 PM on June 21, 2005


He's not Columbian, he's Colombian. If your going to display your ignorance, please do it with more aplomb.
posted by signal at 9:59 PM on June 21, 2005


delmoi writes "In this thread and the one about insomnia_lj's photos we get self-righteous people complaining about the motives of the person creating or distributing the images, rather then what the images convey. "

This is 2005. Americans would rather shoot the messenger than hear the news.
posted by clevershark at 12:07 AM on June 22, 2005


Whether you have the right to tell a story or not depends on whether you tell it well. It is pointless to ask the story-teller why they did not tell another story. Look to the one they told.

Did Botero tell this story well enough to earn the right to tell it? It is difficult to make a judgement when all we see is a set of jpgs. One would have to go to the exhibition. But from what we do see, it appears that Botero places his work within a long tradition in Xian and post Xian art of the depiction of suffering and torture. This is something which such photographs of Abu Ghraib as I have seen do not appear to do.
posted by TimothyMason at 12:26 AM on June 22, 2005


I think he's bringing the images of Abu Ghraib to the Colombians who haven't seen the pics (but how many can their be?) and cashing in his chips with an unpredicted change to his grotesque style.

God! I hate his stuff.
posted by Joybooth at 12:30 AM on June 22, 2005


jonson writes "All the more shocking since it comes from an artist whose images have always made me smile, and have never carried (to my eyes) a hint of malice. Weird that he would choose to take this course of action, artistically."


"Now is the time for all good men...."
posted by orthogonality at 12:38 AM on June 22, 2005


Hate his stuff? Well ... I always seem to see him alongside Paula Rego, and he certainly suffers by the comparison. But why hate?
posted by TimothyMason at 2:41 AM on June 22, 2005


Wow, those are exceptional paintings, they immediately remind me of Jean Fouqet. I have never even heard of this guy before, great post.
posted by fire&wings at 3:10 AM on June 22, 2005


All this 'outrage' must be great for business.

But not as good for business as Bush's war in Iraq has been to Cheney and his friends at Haliburton.
posted by marxchivist at 4:25 AM on June 22, 2005


Are there any other rules of artistic inspiration and qualifications to produce art that we should know about, ori?
posted by effwerd at 5:38 AM on June 22, 2005


delmoi writes "In this thread and the one about insomnia_lj's photos we get self-righteous people complaining about the motives of the person creating or distributing the images, rather then what the images convey. "

This is 2005. Americans would rather shoot the messenger than hear the news.


clevershark - spot on! Obfuscation at its best!
posted by ericb at 8:57 AM on June 22, 2005


So ori joins Susan Sontag as the other person who bought into the deadly preciousness of Sebald's "Austerlitz"? (No problems with the theme - but oh the excruciatingly mannered writing and structure.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:16 AM on June 22, 2005


One point that I think is being missed is that not all news outlets or mass media would present the original pictures.

These definitely will be picked up and displayed in more places. So less people will be able to plead ignorance of what was happening.
posted by djlerman at 12:46 PM on June 22, 2005


Are there any other rules of artistic inspiration and qualifications to produce art that we should know about, ori?
posted by effwerd at 5:38 AM PST on June 22 [!]


wait, are you suggesting that an artist who has appropriated an overtly political issue as his theme, and defends this choice of theme on political grounds (see above), should be held impervious to political suspicions? ars longa and all that but the artist (specifically this artist) does not exist in a vacuum, channelling the the spirit of the muses into abstract geomtries.
posted by ori at 12:56 PM on June 22, 2005


an artist who has appropriated an overtly political issue as his theme ...

see Guernica.
posted by ericb at 1:24 PM on June 22, 2005


"Initial reaction to the painting is overwhelmingly critical. The German fair guide calls Guernica "a hodgepodge of body parts that any four-year-old could have painted." It dismisses the mural as the dream of a madman. Even the Soviets, who had sided with the Spanish government against Franco, react coolly. They favor more overt imagery, believing that only more realistic art can have political or social consequence. Yet Picasso's tour de force would become one of this century's most unsettling indictments of war." [source]
posted by ericb at 1:26 PM on June 22, 2005


i also don't think it is necessary to locate my criticism on a biographical level. the paintings themselves are, as TimothyMason points out, after the tradition of christian art meant to evoke pity for and reverence toward the suffering of martyrized saints. since the overwhelming majority of abu gharib prisoners are muslim, their torture carries different moral overtones, especially ones of shame and humiliation. i don't want to presume to speak for the victims of the torture and their communities, but i'd be curious to hear what they think. what with all the talk of an american crusade, something tells me they wouldn't be so grateful for having the unique humiliation this causes in the muslim world paved over with overtly christian representation. i think botero's art serves the needs of self-righteous westerners more than it honors the suffering of the victims.
posted by ori at 1:28 PM on June 22, 2005


ericb, if you can't differenciate between works of art like picasso's guernica and botero's cheap political opportunism, i don't know that i could convince you of anything.
posted by ori at 1:34 PM on June 22, 2005


That's your position - "botero's cheap political opportunism." But, hey, maybe I'm just not as intelligent and cultured as you to understand what "art" really is.
posted by ericb at 1:39 PM on June 22, 2005


Hmmm…let me see if there are any parallels.

Pablo Picasso “generally avoid[ed] politics - and disdain[ed] overtly political art.”

“On April 27th, 1937, unprecedented atrocities are perpetrated on behalf of Franco against the civilian population of a little Basque village in northern Spain….Guernica burns for three days. Sixteen hundred civilians are killed or wounded.”

“By May 1st, news of the massacre at Guernica reaches Paris….Picasso is stunned by the stark black and white photographs. Appalled and enraged, Picasso rushes through the crowded streets to his studio, where he quickly sketches the first images for the mural he will call Guernica. His search for inspiration is over.” [source]

-------------------------------------------------------

“Botero has taken his sharpest departure yet from his normally placid scenes of chubby people and other still life paintings and sculptures….He told The Associated Press that he became so upset by prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison that he felt compelled to produce works that would graphically depict it.”
‘No one would have ever remembered the horrors of Guernica if not for the painting,’ said Botero, referring to Pablo Picasso's masterpiece ‘Guernica,’ which depicts the aerial bombardment of civilians during the Spanish Civil War. [source]
-------------------------------------------------------
Two artists, each not known for using their art for political statements. Each views photographs of the atrocities of war and uses their outrage as inspiration to communicate their reactions to these events in their artistic expression.

The latter artist even compares his efforts to those of the former in an Associated Press interview.
posted by ericb at 1:52 PM on June 22, 2005


It is a little odd he'd be so outraged at the US abuses -- he's Columbian [sic] for chrissakes. Lord knows nothing outrageous has ever happened there . . .

BTW -

"This is not the first time that Botero has depicted violence.

About six years ago, he began painting scenes of bloodshed in Colombia. One such canvas, on display in a Medellin museum, shows Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar being killed by police during a rooftop shootout. Last year, Botero held an exhibition in Bogota about Colombia's 40-year-old guerrilla conflict." [source]
posted by ericb at 1:56 PM on June 22, 2005


It is a little odd he'd be so outraged at the US abuses...

Oh, that's right ... only citizens of the U.S. are entitled to be outraged - at least us "liburals" who have a twisted view of things.
posted by ericb at 5:30 PM on June 22, 2005


wait, are you suggesting that an artist who has appropriated an overtly political issue as his theme, and defends this choice of theme on political grounds (see above), should be held impervious to political suspicions?

I have no problem with being suspicious of his motives. It's when you delve into saying he isn't qualified to make such an artistic political statement or take issue with his source of inspiration. I would think, as an artist, he is qualified to make whatever political statement he'd like through his art. And where he finds his inspiration is up to him.
posted by effwerd at 5:33 PM on June 22, 2005


this is not his story to tell.

The tragedy in all of this, seeing the comments in this thread, is that art reflecting this war is so rare. I don't quite understand the reasons, but in my ideal world people would have been snarky about this tread because it was "another war art post" rather than "what a cheap political opportunist hack." When we look at where we are and how powerless we feel, we must ask how loud the chorus actually is...
posted by VulcanMike at 2:45 PM on June 23, 2005


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