Botero’s broken bodies and prisoner self-reportage from the War of Terror

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Columbian artist Fernando Botero is best known for his domestic scenes of rotund, fleshy, yet sturdy bodies with a distinct and consistent aesthetic and themes applied across his work. This is why his 2005 work that deals in painting and drawing with the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib (Iraq) is highly unique. This paper will explore the way in which this work is doubly effective in evoking in the viewer a sense of unease and shock as familiar bodies, typically portrayed by Botero in happier circumstances, are often alone, always naked and childlike in their fleshy rendering. Because of the familiarity with Botero’s bodies, these stark depictions of torture and after torture, point to the universal over the specific context of a prison in Iraq. Botero himself noted that the work was a clarion call to uphold the Geneva convention. Additionally, this essential contrast with his other work creates a new hyper reality in which society itself is in crisis and human degradation is acceptable. This contrast enables these images to avoid hyperbole and preachy, well-meaning activism and elevate the work as persuasive protest. Essentially, for Botero to repurpose his well-known actors in such grim circumstances is effectively shocking in itself. This paper will also reflect on other artwork produced around prisoner abuse and its contribution to our understanding of this hidden and dark world of moral abandon.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2024
EventAssociation of Art History Annual Conference 2024 - University of Bristol , Bristol , United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Apr 20245 Apr 2024


ConferenceAssociation of Art History Annual Conference 2024
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • art history
  • botero
  • self reportage
  • prisoner art
  • war on terror

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