BOGOTA, COLUMBIA -- In a new series of paintings by famed Colombian artist Fernando Botero, Iraqi detainees are shown being beaten by American prison guards, made to wear women's lingerie and suffering other abuse.
Botero has taken his sharpest departure yet from his normally placid scenes of chubby people and other still life paintings and sculptures, which have hung in such places as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Mo.
Colombian painter Fernando Botero displays some of his new paintings depicting the horrors of U.S. guards' abuse of captives at Iraq's Abu Graib prison, Monday April 11, 2005 in Paris, France. Botero says he became so upset that he felt compelled to produce works showing his trademark chubby characters naked and being blooded by Americans. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
He told The Associated Press that he became so upset by prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison that he felt compelled to produce works that would graphically depict it.
"I, like everyone else, was shocked by the barbarity, especially because the United States is supposed to be this model of compassion," he said in an interview from his art studio in Paris.
Most of the 50 oils and sketches will be part of a broader exhibit of 170 paintings that opens June 16 in Rome. There are plans for the show to go to Germany later this year and then in 2006 to the United States. Botero said the Abu Ghraib paintings will not be included in the U.S. tour unless museums ask for them.
One of the works shows three naked, bound and hooded Iraqis stacked in a human pyramid behind prison bars. The only color in the sketch is red blood pouring from one of the detainees. Another is a painting of an American soldier swinging a bloody club at the head of a half-naked, helpless man. Many of the characters have the puffiness normally seen in Botero's works, but some have the physique of beefy body builders.
The scandal over abuse at Abu Ghraib surfaced when pictures of guards humiliating naked Iraqi prisoners became public early last year, tarnishing the military's image in Arab countries and worldwide, and sparking wider investigations into detainee abuses. So far, seven soldiers have been sentenced for the abuse, with the longest sentence of 10 years in prison going to Spc. Charles Graner Jr., the alleged ringleader of the abuse. Army Pfc. Lynndie England — who in some of the photos is seen holding a hooded, naked Iraqi prisoner on a leash and pointing at a naked detainee's genitals — goes on trial in May.
The 73-year-old Botero said his paintings are inspired more by written descriptions of the abuse than by the photographs. The paintings are each titled simply "Abu Ghraib," followed by a number from 1-50 to distinguish them.
Botero said his intent is to emblazon the images upon the consciousness of the world.
"No one would have ever remembered the horrors of Guernica if not for the painting," said Botero, referring to Pablo Picasso's masterpiece "Guernica," which depicts the aerial bombardment of civilians during the Spanish Civil War.
This is not the first time that Botero has depicted violence.
About six years ago, he began painting scenes of bloodshed in Colombia. One such canvas, on display in a Medellin museum, shows Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar being killed by police during a rooftop shootout. Last year, Botero held an exhibition in Bogota about Colombia's 40-year-old guerrilla conflict.
© 2005 The Associated Press