VALENCIA.- Between 2004 and 2005 Botero made a series of paintings and numerous drawings based on pictures of the prison of Abu Ghraib. The exhibition travelled to museums in Italy, Germany, Greece and the United States. It is important to stress that this was not the first time that horror had appeared in Boteros work; for example, the painting Guerra (War), 1973, was a visual response to reports of the Yom Kippur war between Israel and the Arab countries of Egypt and Syria, but the image also alludes to the period of Colombian history in the late forties known as La Violencia (The Violence), when over three hundred thousand people disappeared in Boteros country. Other works, such as Masacre en Colombia (Massacre in Colombia), 1999, showing a family riddled with bullets beside a wall which recalls Goyas firing squad paintings, Masacre en la catedral (Massacre in the Cathedral), 2002, or the works that he devoted to the violence in everyday life in Colombia, presented in his exhibition at Musée Maillol in Paris in 2003, confirm that Botero has never closed his eyes to the ceaseless violence of our contemporary reality, and instead has captured that world of suffering and immorality in countless paintings and drawings.
For Fernando Botero, the Abu Ghraib pictures represent a declaration about cruelty and at the same time an accusation concerning United States policy. For him it was important that the American public should see these works because the people who committed the atrocities are Americans, though he is convinced that the majority of the citizens of that country are opposed to what happened in Abu Ghraib. What is unique in this series is the tone of indignation, the utter repulsion that he feels at that violation of humanity. We are moved by the strange contemporary martyrology that Botero generates by going back to Christian iconography and mingling it with the aberrations that took place at Abu Ghraib. Moreover, he shows quite clearly and forcefully that, despite everything, we do not have to accept that our destiny consists solely in wrestling with trivia. We cannot remain endlessly trapped by an image, like a fly in a crystal. Boteros reaction in painting the Abu Ghraib series is both a testimony of suffering and a manifestation of the love for life that he professes. By focusing on cruelty and humiliation, this artist opens up the channel of moral necessity as opposed to barbarity.
Yet Botero does not set out to become an apocalyptic painter, nor is he prepared to abandon the visions of childhood or renounce the expression of the joy of living. The suspended time which Vargas Llosa found in Botero as an extraordinary life force reappears in the extraordinary series about the circus. These works are painted with complete mastery, presenting the acrobat, the lion tamer, Pierrot and Harlequin, the man with the snake and the woman who dares to let them throw knives at her body, a world of lively colours in which a kind of placidity reigns. Even the lady lion tamer lies down on the tiger in a dreamy pose. Showing the torture series alongside the candid circus pictures makes us aware that the destiny of art after Abu Ghraib is to oppose barbarity, but also to offer images of plenty, dreams and memories that allow us to maintain some hope.