American University presents Station 12, representing Jesus’s death on the cross through Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib 73. Botero is famous in his native Colombia and beyond for his cheerfully bulbous figures. Here he takes his signature style and applies it to a gruesome subject: the torture of detainees in Abu Ghraib during the Iraq War. Seeing horrific photos emerge in the press, he felt compelled to paint the victims in a way which lent them dignity, rather than perpetuating their humiliation. “I was just trying to visualize what was really happening there,” Botero says. An artist “can make visible what’s invisible, what cannot be photographed.” To disclose this dimension, Botero turned for inspiration to canonical images of the flagellated Christ, the Man of Sorrows. While torturers toyed with their captives in a demented God-complex, Botero suggests that true divinity belonged to their innocent victims.
Botero’s depictions of Abu Ghraib are an attempt to visualize the torture that occurred there, at a prison notorious both under the rule of Saddam Hussein and later under the control of American forces, and bear witness to it. Rather than basing his depictions off of the photographs that were taken at Abu Ghraib, Botero created new images that bear witness to the brutality but lend the subjects dignity and humanity. Botero, drawing on his Roman Catholic upbringing, evokes the Man of Sorrows motif, which has been used since the Middle Ages to represent the suffering of Christ experienced during the Passion. In this depiction of Abu Ghraib, Botero seeks to remind us of the human potential for cruelty and our obligation to resist it.
This station invites viewers to momentarily identify with the Roman soldiers at the Crucifixion, or American soldiers at Abu Ghraib, and reflect on what it is that drives human beings to commit acts of violence against other human beings.
For a complete overview of the city-wide exhibition including maps and events, visit artstations.org.
On the day he died, Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa through the streets of Jerusalem. This journey is commemorated by the Stations of the Cross. Across the chasm of two thousand years, this tortured path resonates with current events for people of various faiths and backgrounds. Jesus' words upon the cross, "Why have you forsaken me?" speak acutely to the anguish and alienation felt by many today, from undocumented immigrants to religious, racial and ethnic minorities across our society.
This unique exhibition — held in 14 locations across Washington, DC — will use works of art to tell the story of the Passion in a new way, for people of different faiths. The Stations weave through religious as well as secular spaces, leading viewers across the District from the United Methodist Building adjacent to the Supreme Court, throughout the city and ending at the National Cathedral. It will be on view from March 1 - April 16.
This exhibition is curated by Rev. Dr. Catriona Laing and Dr. Aaron Rosen. It is supported by the Cambridge Interfaith Programme, Coexist House, the Episcopal Evangelism Society, and Trinity Church, Wall Street.