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Painter of the Portly Takes on Torture

Oct. 27 2008, Published 7:07 a.m. ET

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GUERNICA WITH GIRTH Botero

Columbian artist Fernando Botero isn't the first figure in the fine-art community who springs to mind when you think agitprop. Chubby-chaser, maybe. But the artist has struck an agreement to display his take on the infamous Abu Ghraib prison photos at a new California museum.

His subjects, which grace New York's Time Warner Center mall, look like folky Michelin men, cutesy chuckle-worthy figurines that'd be the perfect dirty counterparts to your grandma's Hummel collection. The portly figures are still at the center of his Abu Ghraib works, only now they're naked, bound, and being menaced by dogs. In some cases, the scenes depict events that have never been confirmed to have happened but were inspired by the New Yorker's stories on abuses at the prison.

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"I think Seymour Hersh's article was the first one I read. I was on a plane and I took a pencil and paper and started drawing," Botero told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year. "I was just trying to visualize what was really happening there."

Botero recently announced that he intends to donate the entire series, valued at up to $15 million, to the University of California, Berkeley, an institution synonymous with political protest.

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