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Not For Sale : Fernando Botero's Abu Ghraib's Drawings

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

WARNING: EXPLICIT IMAGES. The brutality and torture of the Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib detention center has shocked the world.

"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.

Source: 2007 / Mike Kepka / The Chronicle www.sfgate.com

"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 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."

Abu Ghraib, 2007, Fernado Botero

"Art is important in time," he said. "It brings some kind of reflection to the matter. We have analyzed 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."

Source : AP Archive (LEFT), Abu Ghraib, 2007, Fernando Botero (RIGHT)

"Anti-American it's not," Botero said emphatically. "Anti-brutality, anti-inhumanity, yes. 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."

In all, Botero produced 87 drawings and paintings on the subject. Why stop at 87 ?

"One day, I didn't have anything more to say," Botero said. "You feel kind of empty and kind of quiet. You've taken out all your anger and your frustration."

No one can accuse Botero of trying to profit from his Abu Ghraib pictures, at least not directly.

"They are absolutely not for sale," he said.

Editor's thought: We can only imagine the state of mind that an artist venture into, in order to contemplate and visually depict the experience of the mental and physical sufferings of somebody else. This reminds us fairly quickly to Pablo Picasso's work, Guernica, a historical and timely piece of the time to raise an important anti-war message of innocent citizens sufferings and tragic loss of life caused by the Spanish Civil War. 

View the video tour via AP Archive, YouTube





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