At the moment the US government is releasing documents and transcripts from hearings addressing US torture. The artist Fernando Botero made a series of paintings portraying the victims of torture at the prison at Abu Ghraib in Iraq after he did the paintings of victims of narcotráfico in Colombia. They are worth considering now. Botero said, when asked why he decided to paint the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, "Because of the anger I felt and the whole wold felt over this crime committed by the country which presents itself as a model of compassion, of justice and of civilization."
He said, "In art one has to always reevaluate ideas, call all into question. I always believed and predicted that great art was always about kinder themes, with very few exceptions. And it's true. For instance, there are thousands of works by impressionists, and I've yet to see one which has a dramatic theme. However, situations so wounding as the violence in Colombia and now the torture at Abu Ghraib make me think differently."
He doesn't think Abu Ghraib and Colombia are similar. "The violence in Colombia is always the pduct of ignorance, lack of education and social injustice. That of Abu Ghraib is a crime committed by the greatest armed forces in the world who forgot what the Geneva Convention dictates about the treatment of prisoners."
He was asked if he thought his series of paintings would have a political effect. "No," he said. "Art never has had this power. The artist leaves a testimonial which acquires importance over the long haul if it is artistically valid."
Below I have put a series of Abu Ghraib photos interspersed with Botero's paintings. I am trying to figure out what each might say that the other doesn't; what different effects on the viewer photos vs. paintings have. It is worth remembering that the paintings are quite large. You can see this in the photo of Botero standing with some of them.
Below are two paintings of prisoners piled on each other are photos of the and photos of the same subject.
Photos and paintings of individual prisoners being restrained in ways that look like torture to me.
Below, paintings and photos of prisoners being threatened by dogs.
Photos, paintings of guards assaulting prisoners
And finally, a photo only, recently in the press, of a man who died in captivity.
Lest we forget.