Bringing terror alive

Fernando Botero is best known for jolly, rotund sculptures such as the Broadgate Venus, which resides in Exchange Square in the City of London. This makes his latest work - a series of more than 70 paintings and drawings based on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib - all the more shocking. Oversized men are beaten, hooded, urinated on, sexually abused and attacked by slavering dogs. In the tradition of Picasso's Guernica and Goya's Disasters of War, the works bring home more powerfully than any photograph or news report the horror that human beings inflict upon one another. From 18 October, they will be shown together for the first time at the Marlborough Gallery, New York.

"I have spent my whole life believing that paintings should be pleasurable," says the artist on the phone from his Paris studio. "But the idea behind this series is very different. I felt such indignation and rage when I saw the Abu Ghraib images in the news. In Africa, or Latin America, violence is committed by people who are ignorant, badly educated. But America is a country that purports to defend human rights."

Botero was born in 1932 in Medellín, Colombia - later the birthplace of the drug baron Pablo Escobar. Although little known outside his homeland, previous works such as The Death of Pablo Escobar (1999) and Massacre in Colombia (2000) engaged with the brutality that enveloped the country during the 1980s and 1990s.

He is amazed that American artists have not engaged more directly with the Abu Ghraib images. "Painting has the power to make the invisible visible. I imagined these scenes, but I know there is nothing here which didn't hap-pen in real life. The problem is that American art is very abstract. This was a situation that they needed to respond to clearly."

"Botero: Abu Ghraib", with an essay by David Ebony, is published by Prestel (£19.99)

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