BAMPFA joins the UC Berkeley community in mourning the passing of Fernando Botero, the internationally acclaimed artist who passed away earlier this month at the age of 91. He leaves behind a remarkable legacy of accomplishment as one of the most recognizable contemporary artists of his time—and as a friend and supporter of UC Berkeley, to which he donated one of the most important bodies of work in his six-decade career.
Botero was best known for his signature motif of portraying voluptuous, larger-than-life figures from many different walks of life—a style that reappeared throughout his hundreds of paintings and sculptures across more than half a century of practice. While many of these works captured a spirit of artistic whimsy and playful satire, Botero’s creative trajectory took a turn in 2005, when the artist’s moral outrage with the Bush administration’s War on Terror compelled him to spend fourteen months creating what he called the Abu Ghraib series: a set of more than eighty paintings that depicted the atrocities committed by US military officers at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Controversial in its time, the series is regarded today as among the most unique works in Botero’s oeuvre.
In 2009, Botero donated fifty-six of these works to UC Berkeley, in recognition of the university’s longstanding reputation as a bastion of free speech and progressive values. This generous bequest followed a major exhibition of the series at UC Berkeley in 2007.
Throughout the 2010s, BAMPFA exhibited selections from the Abu Ghraib series on an annual basis through its Art for Human Rights program, which was inspired by the themes of anti-authoritarianism and human rights that animated Botero’s work. Selections of the series are currently on view at the UC Berkeley School of Law.
Viewers interested in reflecting on these works in the wake of Botero’s passing are invited to visit their ongoing exhibition at Berkeley Law.