World-renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero responded to his horror and anger over the obscenity of torture at Abu Ghraib by spending two years in his art studio obsessively churning out canvasses. The result is a devastating 79-piece series of drawings and paintings. “They are among Mr. Botero’s best work,” wrote New York Times critic Roberta Smith, “and in an art world where responses to the Iraq war have been scarce—literal or obscure—they stand out.” Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger spoke with Botero last November at the world premiere of the complete Abu Ghraib collection, held at American University Museum in Washington, D.C.
Sojourners: Do you see these paintings more as “art of confrontation” or as vehicles for restoring compassion?
Botero: Art is completely useless in the sense that, in the moment it happened, it doesn’t have any interest. But over time [art] becomes a reminder. When the newspapers don’t talk [about the event] anymore, the art reminds us.
Sojourners: Where does this series of paintings fit in your own spiritual journey?
Botero: All the images of Christ and suffering and torture that are in art history—I’m very familiar with that. In the moment I did these paintings, I didn’t think about those things. But I’m sure it came to me, because everything that you see [in your life] comes back transformed. I wasn’t thinking about Christ, but when some people mentioned that these paintings have something to do with Christ, then I saw that actually there is a relation between the Passion of Christ and these paintings.