The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Abu Ghraib art

After Moorishgirl mentioned this show in New York by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, I went there this afternoon.

Although I gather that Botero's art is viewed as rather overr-rated and unsophisticated by many art critics, this show was well-reviewed in the Nation and The New York Times. In fact, the show has received a lot of attention, so much so that it's been extended to November 21.

My view may have been colored by the reviews I'd already read, but I found the show very affecting. Botero's signature style of rendering the human body--slightly inflated, both monumental and toy-like--doesn't make the figures less real. Rather, it somehow has the effect of making the figures more universal, more human--maybe because the lack of realism allows you to look, again, at what you've seen but not wanted to see before.
I think the Nation review is right-on with the observation that the show makes viewers relate to the Iraqis being tortured rather than the Americans doing the torture (they are only present as a boot, a gloved hand at the end of a leash, a stream of piss). Your attention is focused on the details of physical suffering: the tied hands, the knee being bitten by a dog, the blood. These works are about the essence of torture, the physical humiliation and suffering of the human body, and they're very powerful.

The art isn't for sale. Botero says he hopes to donate it to a museum.