Abu Ghraib torture, ten years later

This video says about itself:

8 June 2012

The Center for Latin American Studies helped facilitate the display of Fernando Botero’s “Abu Ghraib” collection at the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos in Santiago, Chile. The paintings and drawings were donated to Berkeley after the first showing at a public institution in the United States was arranged by the Center on the Berkeley campus in 2007. This video highlights the exhibition and includes footage from the opening ceremony.


Abu Ghraib’s Ghosts

Ten years later, the United States still hasn’t come clean on its torture record.


April 27, 2014

Ten years ago today, “60 Minutes II” broadcast infamous pictures of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison then controlled by the United States. The photographs were heartbreaking. Naked men stacked up on top of each other in human pyramids. Prisoners forcibly staged in humiliating positions to mimic sex acts. Bags placed over men’s heads, denying their humanity. The most memorable image — a hooded man standing on a box, contorted Crucifixion-like with wires protruding from his hands — remains an indelible reminder that a country that long abhorred torture practiced it after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Those pictures shattered my belief that well-established democracies do not torture. I am a survivor of torture who owes his release from the Argentine junta’s notorious Unit 9 prison in part to U.S. pressure in the 1970s. If U.S. citizens and certain members of Congress had not written letters to the Argentine government inquiring about my situation, I might have become one of the thousands of people “disappeared” by the Argentine military in its Dirty War against political activists like me. I owe my life to the solidarity those Americans showed and their principled opposition to the military’s machinery of death and torture.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government that stood up to my torturers has been compromised — by both the Bush administration, which adopted torture as policy, and the Obama administration, which has kept evidence of U.S. torture hidden for years. It also is being compromised by the Central Intelligence Agency itself.

Here’s how. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s massive 6,600-page report on the CIA’s post- Sept. 11 torture program remains secret, although the committee recently voted to send the report’s executive summary, findings and conclusions to the White House for a declassification review. To be clear, the whole report should be public, not just pieces — but there’s a more urgent matter that must be dealt with immediately. According to the White House, President Barack Obama will allow the CIA to review and redact the report summary — a preposterous conflict of interest. Once again, the torturers will have the opportunity to censor what the public can know.

Already, leaked portions of the documents, obtained by McClatchy, show that CIA officers used torture methods that went beyond those approved by the Bush-era Justice Department and CIA headquarters, and that the agency evaded congressional, White House and public oversight. This isn’t surprising. Torture, you see, is a cancer that corrodes the morality of the perpetrators. It is so horrific that even its practitioners must lie to themselves and others to justify their actions, which shock not only the conscience of the world but their own. The CIA does this by rationalizing its brutality with the false argument that torture was necessary to save lives, or by simply relabeling the horrors of torture as the banal “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

This leaves an obvious question: How will the whole truth come out when the perpetrators are the ones holding the black marker? The answer is obvious, too: It will not. That not only violates solemn obligations of the United States under international law but has real consequences for human rights. As many countries with sordid histories of abuse know, those societies that reckon with their brutal pasts — Argentina, Chile and Peru, for instance — go on to have better records of protecting human rights, as well as defending their citizens from terrorists and other violent criminals. But societies that try to bury the past — including many former Soviet bloc countries — are more likely to continue their human rights violations and harm both their national and domestic security in the process.

While there are hugely important distinctions between the previously mentioned countries and the United States, the lesson still applies: The United States has a moral and legal obligation to discover and disclose the entire truth about torture committed by its agents, as a reminder to future administrations and to the world that torture is the very negation of human rights.

Just days after Obama took office in 2009, he did the right thing and immediately banned torture. But the 10th anniversary of the release of the Abu Ghraib photos, plus a still-secret report on the U.S. torture program under George W. Bush, serve as a reminder that Obama must do more before we can be confident that torture was an aberration that will never be repeated. He must take responsibility and lead the nation forward. The president — and not the CIA — must decide what is made public about the agency’s torture program. And he should release the Senate’s torture report in full.

The United States can once again become a full partner in the global movement for human rights, but only if it faces up to its dark side and atones for its torturous transgressions.

Juan E. Méndez is the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

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US prisoner abuse photos released

This video from the USA says about itself:

Fernando Botero, Artist in conversation with Robert Hass, Professor of English, UC Berkeley, Poet Laureate of the United States (1995-1997).

Fernando Botero, the most famous living Latin American artist, will display his Abu Ghraib paintings at the University of California, Berkeley. These 47 paintings and drawings belong to a long tradition of artistic statements against war and violence that include Goya’s Caprichos and Picasso’s Guernica.

Organized by the Center for Latin American Studies, these paintings have never been displayed in a public institution in the United States. The exhibit was “proposed to many museums in the U.S,” according to the artist, but all declined to show it.

The human cost of war, visual art: here.

From The Raw Story in the USA:

Pentagon may have up to 2,000 photographs of prisoner abuse

Stephen C. Webster

Published: Friday April 24, 2009

The Pentagon will release for the first time 44 photographs depicting prisoner abuse after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) won a court ruling in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in 2004.

A “substantial number of other images” are also being processed for release, the Department of Justice wrote in a letter to a US federal court: according to the Guardian, citing an unnamed official, that “substantial number” could be as many as 2,000 photos.

“These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by US personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib,” ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh said in a release.

The Iraqi prison at Abu Ghraib became infamous after photographs showing Iraqi detainees being humiliated and abused by their US guards were published in 2004.

The latest disclosure “is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse,” added Singh.

See also here.

CIA ordered to turn over documents relating to destroyed interrogation tapes: here.

Torturing detainee may have produced false terror alerts: here.

US military agency called harsh interrogation methods ‘torture’ and ‘unreliable’: here.

Correction: U.S. actually did execute Japanese soldiers for waterboarding, by David Neiwert Friday Apr 24, 2009: here.

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Botero, Abu Ghraib torture, and art

This video is called US exhibit Botero‘s Abu Ghraib art.

From British daily The Morning Star:

A permanent accusation

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Paul Haste

How the horrors of Abu Ghraib provided Colombian artist Fernando Botero with inspiration for his paintings.

Show any Colombian a copy of this artist’s work and ask them who painted it and, without hesitation, you will receive the correct answer.

Fernando Botero‘s paintings and sculptures are among Colombia‘s greatest artistic treasures, but, although his huge canvases of brightly coloured rotund figures are instantly recognisable, the chances are that few people in Britain will have actually seen an original.

For, even though Botero is one of Latin America’s greatest contemporary artists, not a single significant British museum or gallery has ever hosted an exhibition of his work.

Unlike ‘significant’ museums and galleries in the USA. Well … err… until Botero painted about Abu Ghraib, and the venues got scared of the Bush regime.

Perhaps sensing this apparent disdain, Botero paid a fleeting visit to London last week – his first in 25 years. He paused just long enough to take a few questions at a showing of a documentary on his art hosted by Discovering Latin America at Chinatown’s Prince Charles cinema.

Born in Colombia’s second city Medellin, Botero trained as a matador in the late 1940s before turning to painting and, by his own admission, came of age living on a city block in the red light district.

“I went a lot – all the time,” he breezily confesses and to his experiences in the bull ring and the bordello were soon added the influence of the great Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros [see also here] and José Clemente Orozco, whose social art dominated the Latin American scene at that time.

Botero’s style has changed little in more than 50 years, but the critics who dismiss his bright colours and curvaceous forms as “cartoon-like” or “simplistic populism” fail to grasp how the artist’s big-hearted, sensual depictions of a stunningly beautiful Colombia conceal almost unbearable violent tension.

Lush palm trees, brilliant tropical flowers and languid colonial streets alternate with scenes of rape, killings and military dictators.

And Botero’s deceptively simple portraits of presidents, generals and bishops become satire when tiny details, such as the flies buzzing around their heads suggesting a rotten regime, are noticed.

But recently, even the ceaseless, senseless violence of his homeland was eclipsed by what Botero himself described as “the astonishing inhumanity” of US soldiers abusing prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib jail.

“The United States is supposed to be a model of compassionate human rights, but look what they did. I was angry with this hypocrisy,” the artist declared to the Prince Charles cinema audience, packed with members of London’s Latin American community.

“I was in a plane reading about this and I immediately began to sketch images to express my fury. For 14 months, day and night, I was obsessed with this.”

Botero painted more than 80 graphic canvases of horrific torture scenes, of prisoners broken and bleeding, faces covered with hoods, blindfolds and women’s underwear as their US captors humiliated and terrorised them.

These works draw on Latin American baroque paintings of religious scenes, with Botero exchanging the depiction of Christ on the cross with Iraqi men tied naked to the bars of a prison cell, unable to escape the savage dogs unleashed by the soldiers.

But he insists that this lurid, disturbing series was not meant to be “anti-American. These paintings are anti-inhumanity. You cannot stay silent when something like this goes on.”

Botero does not intend to sell any of the Abu Ghraib works. “It is immoral to try and make money out of the suffering of the people,” he says. Instead, he hopes that a US gallery will have to courage to host a permanent exhibition because “this art is a permanent accusation.”

Now that President Obama has pledged to end the Iraq war, Botero feels that he can return to painting “because of love, rather than anger.”

“Some artists believe that creating art that gives pleasure is prostitution, that shocking people is art’s only purpose,” he says. “Because of this, I believe that we are living through the poorest moment in the history of painting.

“In 2009, where is Matisse? Where is Picasso? The poverty in the art I see right now is traumatic, but I hope there will be a reaction against this – I hope there are unknown artists working at the moment who can change this.”

US artist Athena Tacha’s Dead of Iraq

This video shows

9 February 2011

Music: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” from “Seven Last Words From The Cross” by James MacMillan

London Chamber Orchestra / Polyphony / James MacMillan (Conductor).

Images taken from the “Abu Ghraib” series by Fernando Botero .

From Art and Politics Now blog in the USA:

Dead of Irak, 2008, foamcore.

32 x 32 in.

Iraq map and glass microbeads 1/2 mm. diam. each (about 1 million).

Close up the separate small red shiny beads jump out at us, we can feel them physically on our skin, crawling on us, as a flow of blood, as a coming tide, it is our flow, the flow that is a tide of death, it comes from our bodies to the bodies of the Iraqis. …

The artist Athena Tacha describes it as follows:

“It came out of my pain and sense of impotence for stopping the War. I had actually done in the past, on an off, political art (mostly activist about the environment), particularly during the Vietnam war. On my website, look particularly at my Massacre Memorials and its statement, but here is another statement I made recently in a feminist context:

“…deciding to make public art IS a political act in itself. In 1970, instead of becoming a volunteer nurse in Vietnam, I personally opted to bring my art into the public domain and make it accessible to all (not just to the intellectual elite who goes to museums, or to the rich who can buy it). As I stated in my interview with Landscape Architecture magazine (which published the first important article on my public art in May 1978), I wanted to “bring art into the lives of people and endow it with a social function” (such as creating sensitively designed plazas, recreation parks, riverbanks, etc.).”

In a way I consider the Dead of Iraq a sequel to the my Massacre Memorials of the early 1980s.”

Feminism and poster art: here.

The Guerrilla Girls, a collection of radical, left-leaning pop artists famed for wearing gorilla masks and fishnets to highlight sexism, racism, and other pillars of injustice, announced this week that its historic archive will be kept, for posterity, by the bluest of America’s blue-chip cultural institutions: here.

Feminism and art, discussion in the Netherlands: here.

Botero’s Abu Ghraib art, reviewed by Erica Jong

This video from the USA says about itself:

Fernando Botero, artist in conversation with Robert Hass, Professor of English, UC Berkeley; Poet Laureate of the United States (1995-1997).

From the Washington Post in the USA:

“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. …

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.) …

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 most.

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. …

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. …

[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. 202-885-1300.)

WikiLeaks Posts More Prison Docs — This One from Iraq Prison [Camp Bucca]: here.

Botero exhibition about Abu Ghraib torture in Washington, D.C, USA

This is a video about Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib works.

From The Star in Canada:

Art and Abu Ghraib

Nov 24, 2007 04:30 AM

Tim Harper
Washington Bureau

The man doing the waterboarding is a strangely disengaged torturer, representing either cool professionalism or emotionless evil.

The abusers are portrayed as army boots on the back of the abused, latex gloves on a naked body.

They are represented by a stream of urine that starts off canvas or invisible hands holding snarling dogs with their teeth bared.

The abused are hooded or blindfolded, naked or in women’s underwear, bloody, anguished, their bodies bloated and overdrawn in almost iconic Christian poses.

This is the work of 75-year-old Colombian artist Fernando Botero, who has taken oils, charcoal, watercolours and his anger at the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and produced a series of 79 works that evoke the brutality and inhumanity of the torture that was revealed to the world in 2004.

The works first shocked audiences in Europe.

Now they are hanging in a museum in the U.S. capital, a handful of subway stops from the White House.

A visit to the exhibit is a punch to the stomach.

“I had to go directly to the bathroom. I was feeling really dizzy,” said Francisco Tardio, the cultural manager at the Spanish embassy here.

The American University Museum is the first American museum to display the entire Abu Ghraib collection, although some of Botero‘s works had been displayed in galleries in California and New York.

American University is not trying to make a political statement so much as trying to promote discussion of a watershed moment in recent American history, says museum director Jack Rasmussen.

The collection is receiving worldwide attention and swelling museum attendance fivefold.

Last Sunday, 380 people solemnly strode through an exhibit of one of the darkest moments in American history. That may not sound like many, but previous exhibits would have drawn 75 on a good Sunday.

“This is the belly of the beast,” Rasmussen says. “This is the city in which such an exhibition could have the greatest impact.

“It is very disturbing, and this is something that we shouldn’t let slide. But we’re not trying to bash George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.”

Then he adds with a wry smile: “They are our neighbours, after all.”

Botero, who lives in Paris, attended a gala opening here earlier this month, saying he was moved to create his stark renderings because of his distress that a country he admired was implicated in such debasing torture.

The discordance between American ideals and the torture scandal, publicized around the world with graphic photos, filled him with “frustration and rage.”

The visitor is assaulted as soon as he or she enters the Botero wing with the huge oil on canvas rendering of waterboarding, a practice in which the victim is strapped to a wooden board, his mouth and windpipe covered by cloth or cellophane and water poured on his face to simulate drowning.

The practice has been deemed torture since it was first used in the Spanish Inquisition, but it has allegedly been used by CIA interrogators on high-level Al Qaeda operatives in secret detention centres.

Its use is still a subject of debate in this country and Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s refusal to clearly pledge to end the practice nearly derailed his recent confirmation to the post.

Another oil on canvas shows a dog sinking its teeth into the leg of a detainee and a watercolour shows a headless American urinating on two shackled prisoners.

Another shows one blindfolded detainee being forced to simulate oral sex on another by an unseen American and a number of tableaux portray the detainees dressed in pink bra and panties, a favourite instrument of humiliation by the American jailers.

One depicts a broken broomstick protruding from a prisoner’s anus.

Eleven soldiers were convicted of crimes for their roles in the torture, but no officer was ever convicted of criminal wrongdoing.

The stiffest sentence was handed to Specialist Charles Graner, who received 10 years behind bars.

Specialist Lynndie England, mother of Graner’s child, received three years but is now out of prison and back home in West Virginia.

The university said it was receiving about 100 expressions of praise from visitors for every complaint, but it is sparking a strange combination of revulsion and admiration.

“We have to face what this country has done,” said Kate Ratiner of Silver Spring, Md.

Most say they find Botero’s paintings more disturbing than the actual images, which they all saw in media accounts at the time.

“It’s disturbing,” said Sarah Makarechi, an American University student. “This shows the blatant disregard for people’s humanity. It’s like their humanness was just taken away from them.”

“The End of America”: Feminist Social Critic Naomi Wolf Warns U.S. in Slow Descent into Fascism: here.

Botero’s Abu Ghraib art exhibited in Washington, D.C.

This video from the USA is called Fernando Botero‘s “Abu Ghraib” – A Conversation with the Artist. ‘Fernando Botero, Artist in conversation with Robert Hass, Professor of English, UC Berkeley; Poet Laureate of the United States (1995-1997).’

From Associated Press:

Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib art claims spot in nation’s capital

WASHINGTON: Images of blood-streaked, bruised bodies naked and blindfolded in their cells at Abu Ghraib are again on display in the United States — this time in Washington, where the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal embarrassed the Bush administration.

The first complete U.S. showing of artist Fernando Botero’s 79 Abu Ghraib paintings and drawings opens Tuesday at the American University Museum. The images are disturbing and obscene, but Botero offers them as a reminder of what he calls one America’s worst moments.

“I did it because I was very angry. It was a shock for the rest of the world — for everybody — but for an artist, even more,” said Botero, 75. “I’ve never painted anything with such a direct feeling that just came out of me.”

The paintings use Botero’s iconic oversized bodies — but with pain, gritted teeth and beatings from latex-gloved guards instead of his earlier lighthearted subjects.

Botero was inspired by stories from the New Yorker and other accounts of abuses at the notorious Iraqi prison, but wasn’t trying to recreate the infamous photos of prison guards standing over their detainees with leashes and other props. Instead, he focused mostly on the abused. Still, he said he was careful not to portray anything that was not reported in journalistic accounts. …

It has been difficult for Botero to get an audience for the controversial works, painted in 2005 and 2006. A traveling exhibition service got few takers among U.S. museums, but part of the collection was shown late last year at New York’s Marlborough Gallery and earlier this year at the University of California at Berkeley.

For ‘few takers’, up until this exhibition at the American University Museum, read ‘zero takers’ in US museums.

For the current show, in a town where leaders still cannot agree on how to define torture, curators at the university hoped Botero’s work could bring some clarity.

“Torture in the abstract, when it’s far away, it’s something that you can maybe accept a lot more easily than when it’s not next to you,” said Jack Rasmussen, director of the museum. “When it’s depicted in such a powerful way, it’s harder to ignore.” …

Rasmussen had to do some persuading to get university officials to host the show. Ultimately, he said, academic freedom and free speech won out.

The exhibit comes as U.S. senators have clashed with attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey over whether waterboarding — which simulates drowning — is torture. But Botero said he has no illusions his work will influence the political debate. He insists he’s not drawing messages but acknowledges his work makes a political statement.

“I hope that this issue that has marred this administration will be solved,” Botero told The Associated Press. “If you think torture is only when you see blood, then it’s very serious because there is brain damage in so many things that happen with waterboarding and this kind of thing.” …

The Abu Ghraib exhibit is part of the museum‘s larger “Art of Confrontation” show of social and political protest art. It includes exhibits on feminist art and artist Irving Norman’s critique of capitalism, war and the elite [also on Norman: here].

Botero’s work will be on view through Dec. 30. It is then scheduled for a showing in Monterey, Mexico.

From Associated Press today:

5 soldiers killed, making 2007 deadliest year of Iraq war for U.S. troops

Botero’s Abu Ghraib paintings may get permanent home in California

This video about Fernando Botero’s works on Abu Ghraib is called A Permanent Accusation.

From the San Francisco Chronicle in the USA:

Cal could be permanent home for controversial Abu Ghraib paintings

Jesse Hamlin, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

If the details can be worked out, Colombian artist Fernando Botero‘s potent Abu Ghraib paintings will find a permanent home at UC Berkeley, where the controversial images were shown last winter.

Latin America’s most celebrated living artist, Botero has offered to give the university all the pictures it displayed – 25 big paintings and 22 drawings of bound, bloodied and blindfolded naked prisoners, one pawed by a ferocious dog. They’re based on the photographs and stories of Iraqi prisoners tortured by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau has tentatively agreed to accept the gift, the monetary value of which experts peg at $10 million to $15 million.

“We have a gentleman’s agreement”, said Birgeneau, who saw the works when the exhibition opened at Cal’s Doe Library in January and was impressed by “their emotional impact and technical brilliance. I’ve written the artist saying we’ll accept them, subject to us being able to work out a reasonable set of conditions.”

Those conditions include how many of the works would be on permanent view and how they’d be loaned to other institutions. Botero, who is famous for the bloated figures in his playfully satiric paintings that now fetch $1 million to $2 million at auction, has said he would never sell the jarring Abu Ghraib pictures, which were first shown in Europe in 2005. He turned down an offer from the Kunsthalle Wurth museum near Stuttgart, Germany, to build a wing to house them.

“I think they should be here – in the United States – or in Baghdad,” Botero told Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker on the eve of the Berkeley show, which drew about 15,000 people over two months and inspired lectures and panels around campus on torture, human rights, terrorism and art. The works are now on view in a Botero retrospective in Milan and will tour for two years.

In April, the artist, who lives mostly in Paris, e-mailed Professor Harley Shaiken, director of the Center for Latin American Studies, who had organized the show, to say he’d decided to give the works to UC Berkeley. He wrote that because of the school’s academic stature and “openness of spirit,” he wanted the pictures to reside there permanently.

“We were stunned. It was well beyond our wildest dreams,” said Shaiken, who relayed the offer to the chancellor, whom he praises for taking the risk of showing these provocative works and supporting the belief that “a university deals with ideas.”

Shaiken first learned of the Abu Ghraib pictures from a New York Times review of them at Manhattan’s Marlborough Gallery, which represents Botero. “These paintings do something that the harrowing photographs taken at Abu Ghraib do not,” wrote critic Roberta Smith, who considers them some of Botero’s best work. “They restore the prisoners’ dignity and humanity without diminishing their agony or the injustice of their situation.”

The works were shown at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome and other European museums, but American museums passed on them. It rankled Shaiken that the work by Latin America’s best-known artist “addressing one of the driving moral issues of our time” wasn’t going to be seen on the West Coast. He contacted Botero through his dealer and got the ball rolling. When officials at UC Berkeley’s Art Museum said the museum was booked for two years, Shaiken and colleagues set their sites on a space in the Doe Library leading to the stacks. In seven short weeks, pros at Oakland’s Atthowe Fine Art Services converted it to a gallery. The $120,000 to mount the show came entirely from private donations.

“We chose to do that because we knew the content would be controversial,” said Shaiken. He thinks American museums declined the exhibition because of “an unholy mixture of political timidity and critical aloofness.” Some critics dismiss Botero’s work as predictable and too commercial. “He’s accessible,” Shaiken said, “and accessibility makes some suspicious.”

Botero and Berkeley clicked from the get-go. “There was a natural engagement the minute he stepped on campus,” Shaiken said. People flocked from far beyond the campus to see the work. “Many were deeply moved by the art, others disturbed,” Shaiken said. “It did what art is supposed to do.”

After receiving Botero’s offer, Chancellor Birgeneau read up on Botero and sought opinions from people on and off campus. The response was overwhelmingly favorable, Chaiken said, but not unanimous.

Kevin Consey, the director of the Berkeley Art Museum, reportedly is not a big Botero fan. He was out of the country Monday and was unavailable for comment. Museum spokesman Rod Macneil said there were concerns regarding the conditions surrounding the gift, “the requirements about the number of works that would have to be displayed and how they would be displayed. There was concern about the way in which it would impact our freedom to operate the museum.” (The museum is planning a new building in downtown Berkeley). “Everyone recognizes that these are clearly very important works. It would be a good thing if they remain in the UC Berkeley community.”

Botero has made no specific demands yet, Shaiken said, but “I think it is very likely that these works will be in Berkeley, and I think there’s no more appropriate place for them.”

Peter Selz, a retired UC Berkeley art history professor and one-time director of the university museum, wrote the chancellor urging him to accept Botero’s gift. “These are major, meaningful works of art,” said Selz, who was director of the Berkeley museum in the mid-1960s when abstract expressionist Hans Hoffman gave the university 47 paintings. The Botero gift is equally and possibly more significant than Hoffman’s, Selz said.

“I feel it’s very important for future generations to see these paintings chronicling the cruelty in our time.”

E-mail Jesse Hamlin at jhamlin@sfchronicle.com.

Note the adjective “controversial’, cowardly inserted in, especially, the headline about the Abu Ghraib paintings in this otherwise non-problematic article; because of some higher up at the San Francisco Chronicle, who is a Bushist, or scared of Bushist businesses advertising in the paper? It reminds me a bit of Pablo Picasso, admired by Botero: when, it is said, during the nazi occupation of Paris, a German officer entered Picasso’s workplace, and saw Picasso’s famous painting Guernica. Patronisingly, the officer asked Picasso: ‘Haben Sie das gemacht’ [Did you make that]? Picasso replied: ‘Nein, das haben Sie gemacht’ [No, you have done that [to Guernica]]!

Botero is indeed right that his Abu Ghraib work should be either in Iraq or in the United States. However, being in a California university, it will not be in a major art museum. It will also not be in Washington, DC, close to the culprits of horrors like at Abu Ghraib: the Bush administration.

Abu Ghraib Swept Under the Carpet, see here.

Corruption in Bush’s Iraq war: here.

Botero’s works on Abu Ghraib in Milan, Italy

Fernando Botero and painting on Abu Ghraib

From ANSA news agency in Italy:

Botero‘s ‘torture series’ in Milan

Abu Ghraib works part of broader show on Columbian artist

Rome, July 12 – Fernando Botero‘s harrowing paintings inspired by the torture Iraqi inmates suffered from US troops at Abu Ghraib prison go on show in Milan on Friday [see video here].

The series, made up of around 40 works, is part of a broader exhibition at the city’s Palazzo Reale devoted to the Columbian, who is Latin America’s most famous living artist.

In total 150 works created over the last 10 years and selected by the artist himself will be on display until September 16.

Botero, 75, rose to artistic fame thanks to his distinctive sculptures and brightly-coloured paintings of smooth, rotund people and animals.

This style made him one of the world’s most commercially successful artists and his ‘fat people’ can be seen in countless museum collections around the world.

For most of his career, Botero steered clear of making political statements with his art.

Then at the end of the 1990s he took an abrupt change of course and started to represent the kidnappings, shootouts, massacres and misery drug wars cause in his native Colombia. Outrage at the sexual abuse, humiliation and torture captured on photos from Abu Ghraib that emerged in 2004 convinced Botero to continue down this darker path.

The subjects of the Abu Ghraib works retain Botero’s trademark roundness. Usually this gives his work a sense of balance and tranquillity, but here the puffiness of the naked flesh serves to highlight the victims’ vulnerability.

One of the works shows tied-up, hooded prisoners stacked in a human pyramid, while another portrays an American soldier swinging a blood-stained club at the head of a helpless man.

A drawing of a blindfolded man screaming as a guard dog snarls in his face is particularly distressing.

The lighter side of the artist can be seen in a selection of 15 oil paintings and 25 drawings dedicated to the world of the circus.

Botero is a big fan of Mexican circus and manages to capture its charm, characters and colours with skill and humour. The final section is made up of a mix of 70 recent works.

These include ‘traditional’ Botero paintings of everyday subjects and situations, like fat ladies gobbling up food, couples dancing the tango and naked lovers embracing in hotel rooms.

This part of the show also features some of the above-mentioned representations of strife in Colombia, such as his depiction of the death of drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Botero’s Abu Ghraib work in Berkeley, in Washington, D.C., in November

Botero and Abu Ghraib paintingFrom Body Impolitic blog in the USA:

Reflections on Seeing Botero’s Images of Abu Ghraib

Laurie [Toby Edison] says:

I went to see Botero’s Abu Ghraib pictures last week at the Doe Library in Berkeley. …

I’ve also seen Zurbaran’s painting of St. Agatha with her breasts on a tray but because that’s religious art, it’s really about martyrdom and glory.

Goya’s war drawings now have the distancing of time.

Abu Ghraib is now.

Botero’s ability to make good art while expressing the horrors of the torture confounded and amazed me.

Botero’s Abu Ghraib paintings and drawings will be exhibited at the Doe Library, located at the University of California, Berkeley, through March 25th.

Jack Rasmussen, the Director and Curator of the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in Washington, D.C., announced on his web log that Botero’s paintings will be exhibited at the American University Museum from November 6th to December 30th, 2007.

Jack Rasmussen writes, that after 25 March in Berkeley, Botero’s works will

then travel to two venues in Europe (I won’t be there), before coming back here (where they belong).

Yes, Botero’s Abu Ghraib work definitely belongs in Washington, D.C., close to the instigators of the horrors depicted.

It is also good to see Botero in a US museum at last, after a private art gallery in New York City, and a library in Berkeley.

However, without taking anything away from the American University Museum as an institution, and from the courage of its people in displaying Botero’s, according to Bush and his slavish devotees “politically unwanted” art, this still means Botero’s Abu Ghraib work is not (yet?) exhibited in any of the big prestige museums in the USA.

There, top level people do not seem to have the courage (yet?) of exhibiting Botero, who was so very welcome at prestigious places in the US art world as long his work was considered only mildly critical of the powers that be.

Interview with ex US Abu Ghraib soldier: here.

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