In 2003, the press published reports uncovering numerous human rights violations by US military and intelligence personnel against detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The shocking accounts and images of torture at the prison inspired the internationally acclaimed Colombian artist Fernando Botero (born 1932) to produce the torrent of powerful paintings and drawings that became his Abu Ghraib series. These graphic and compelling images of detention and imminent physical and psychological threat are still charged with the memory of horrifying prisoner abuse.
This presentation focuses on works that show no distinguishing facial features: the prisoners’ heads are mostly covered by bags or blinders, or turned away from the viewer altogether. In Botero’s paintings and drawings, the act of hiding the subjects’ faces becomes a comment on conditions at the prison, where men, women, and children were treated as less than human. These works are part of a gift of fifty-six works from the Abu Ghraib series that the artist generously donated to BAMPFA in recognition of Berkeley’s historic role in the arena of human rights.