detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Monday, May 03, 2004

: . The Violence of Representation

Massacre in Colombia by Fernando Botero, 2000

Fernando Botero:
    This is a Colombia that is more violent, more real. This is the fact that we cannot ignore...[T]his is a hope of mine that it will be a testimonial to a terrible moment, a time of insanity in this country...They are works that will hang in a museum, so people can see their history...I have no intention of earning money exploiting Colombia's drama...These works are not for sale. They will always be donated.

    I'm the most Colombian of the Colombians, even though I've lived 47 years outside of Colombia...I've lived 13 years in New York, and I never did a painting about New York. I've lived in France more than 30 years, and I've never painted Paris...I love my country, and it hurts not to be able to see my country, as I did for so many years...I hope that I will one day be able to live in a peaceful Colombia.
Though I'm troubled by Botero's romanticized view of the Colombian past ("They are different from what I have done in the past, the kinder Colombia that I knew as a boy") and his elision of Colombia's present racial predicaments1 in his facile, though by no means unwarranted, dismissal of realism ("There is no realism. It is more a way to express the violence that has happened"), I've always considered him as my favorite living Latin American painter -- to the bemusement of my Colombian friends. And yes, I did spell Colombia correctly -- for once.

Read the NY Times article on Botero's recent works here (then view the slideshow).

1He re-imagined an actual church bombing in Bellavista, a predominantly Afro-Colombian village, in the city of Cartagena -- once the site of a major colonial Latin American slave port. Yet in his "Massacre in the Cathedral," the victims "all appea[r] to be descendants of Europeans." Thus "his vision of what happened," though unsparing in laying bare the violent effects of Colombia's drug wars, looks whitewashed, emotionally true but historically dishonest. Based on real events and aiming to intervene in the real world, Botero's paintings seem too unreal to elicit the indentification of all Colombians. Which is a shame since even his compatriot García Márquez, with his more acute "sense of place," managed to include Afro-Colombians, though oftentimes as hypersexual exotics, in his Cartagena inspired works.

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