Artist portrays violence in Colombia, stirs feelings
JUAN O. TAMAYO
BOGOTA, Colombia -- Fernando Botero, famed painter and sculptor
figures, has caused a stir with his first series of paintings that depict the violence
lashing his homeland -- guerrillas and a drug lord, a massacre and car bombs.
A corpulent guerrilla chief, Manuel ``Sure Shot Marulanda, stands
amid a jungle clearing in one painting, wearing his trademark green uniform and
rubber swamp boots, a finger on the trigger of a submachine gun.
Medellín Cartel leader Pablo Escobar is shown reeling backward
from a stream of
police bullets as he tries to escape shoeless across a rooftop -- just the way the
drug chieftain was killed on Dec. 2, 1993.
La Mejor Esquina depicts Botero's horrific vision of a 1988 massacre
gunmen opened fire on peasants dancing in a countryside bar by the same name,
``The Best Corner,'' killing 28 people.
Although widely acclaimed as masterly depictions of Colombia's
35 years of
violence by the Medellín-born painter, his portrayals of Marulanda and Escobar
have stirred up some grumblings among countrymen.
``He has the complete right to immortalize whomever he wants,
importance of these two criminals . . . is indisputable, [but] one is left with a
certain unease, said an editorial this week in the Cali newspaper El País.
Botero says the seven paintings are not a political commentary,
but rather ``a
reflection of the black folklore of my country, with all its violence, killings,
kidnappings and massacres.
``I read obsessively about the horrible, unacceptable things happening
there comes a time I have to empty my mind of these images and paint them, he
told The Herald last week in a telephone interview from his studio in the Italian
town of Pietrasanta.
The 68-year-old Botero has always painted Colombian themes even
has lived abroad for 48 years. But he had never exhibited any works on the drug
and guerrilla-fueled violence that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Botero said he painted the works over the past several years.
Five will go on
exhibit in October at a Bogotá gallery, and two others will go to a museum in
DEMAND FOR PHOTOS
News of the new paintings caused such a stir that the Bogotá
which published photographs of the canvases last week, was swamped with
requests for copies by publications from as far as Germany and Argentina.
The paintings appear oddly bloodless -- one blotch on the machete
one of the killers in La Mejor Esquina, tiny marks on Escobar, who in reality was
virtually torn apart in a hail of bullets.
``It's a rejection of violence in Botero's unique way, violence
without hatred, said
Pilar Velilla, director of the Antioquia Museum in Medellín, future home of part of
his personal art collection, estimated at $200 million.
The Medellín museum will get the paintings of Escobar and
a car bomb, while the
Bogotá gallery will get Marulanda, La Mejor Esquina, a second car bomb scene,
a painting of a 1950s guerrilla movement, and a portrayal of the devastation
wrought by a 1999 earthquake in the town of Armenia that killed 1,100 people.
While few have seen the paintings in person, the photos published
in almost every
Colombian newspaper and magazine over the past week have sparked waves of
praise and national pride, along with some misgivings.
``These are master works by a Colombian master, the best artist
in the world
addressing our sad violence, one television commentator gushed as he showed
pictures of several of the canvasses.
``I was pleasantly surprised, said Oscar Collazos, one of Colombia's
writers. ``These works are not about a political vision. It's more a matter of a
sensibility impacted by the national tragedy -- war, terrorism, narco-trafficking.
``The images, perhaps distant and uncritical, point more toward
the creation of a
pictorial legend through the re-creation of the national myths of the current times,
Collazos told The Herald.
The El País editorial praised Botero as ``Colombian par
excellence and ``the most
important living painter in the world, but hammered away at his choice of
``What Botero has immortalized, as much as it hurts us, is our
cursed reality, it
said. ``There stand Don Pablo Escobar and Don Manuel Marulanda, painted by
the master brush of our greatest artist, who immortalized them to the shame of
Colombia and the honor (?) of our national art.
Marulanda heads the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a
leftist guerrilla movement accused of links with narco-traffickers and the
kidnapping of hundreds of people, including children, to fuel its war coffers.
Botero said he had heard some of the criticism, but defended the
``part of our dark folklore, just as Al Capone is part of the dark folklore of the
``They are not a political commentary, he added. ``Marulanda and
Escobar are all
part of our dark history, Botero said. ``I had to paint them because they are,
sadly, people of great importance for Colombia.
Although Botero had long stayed away from depicting Colombia's
violence, one of
his works was involved in a 1995 terror bombing in Medellín that killed 23 people
and wounded 200.
The still unidentified bombers placed the charge between the legs
of a huge
Botero sculpture of a dove, the symbol of peace, that the artist had donated to a
park in Medellín.
REACTION TO BOMBING
``They hid the bomb under flowers and detonated it by remote control,
everyone was around because there was a feast there, Botero recalled in another
interview with The Herald earlier this year.
``When I learned about it, I said, leave that thing there as a
monument to stupidity
. . . as a monument to violence, he said. Botero later ordered a new copy of the
sculpture placed next to the damaged one ``as a monument to peace.