Ahmad, Botero Reviews

The current issue of The Nation includes two must-read pieces. Amitava Kumar’s review of The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad is a very thoughtful overview of Ahmad and his work, including many anecdotes such as this:

One senses that Ahmad was deeply sensitive to the waning influence of radical secular politics in the Muslim world, where Islamists increasingly led the opposition to military regimes that had betrayed the dream of independence from colonialism. It may well have been this concern that led him to return, shortly before his death in 1999, to Pakistan, where he hoped to build a university that would teach the humanities. It was to be called Khaldunia University, after the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), whom UN General Secretary Kofi Annan described as “a globalist long before the age of globalization.” (…) Alas, Khaldunia University was never built; according to The Economist’s obituary of Ahmad, he “died before a rupee was raised for it.”

And then there is Arthur Danto’s piece, also freely available online, about Botero’s Abu-Ghraib paintings:

hough transparently modern, Botero’s style is admired mainly by those outside the art world. Inside the art world, critic Rosalind Krauss spoke for many of us when she dismissed Botero as “pathetic.”

When it was announced not long ago that Botero had made a series of paintings and drawings inspired by the notorious photographs showing Iraqi captives, naked, degraded, tortured and humiliated by American soldiers at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, it was easy to feel skeptical–wouldn’t Botero’s signature style humorize and cheapen this horror? And it was hard to imagine that paintings by anyone could convey the horrors of Abu Ghraib as well as–much less better than–the photographs themselves. These ghastly images of violence and humiliation, circulated on the Internet, on television and in newspapers throughout the world, were hardly in need of artistic amplification. And if any artist was to re-enact this theater of cruelty, Botero did not seem cut out for the job.

As it turns out, his images of torture, now on view at the Marlborough Gallery in midtown Manhattan and compiled in the book Botero Abu Ghraib, are masterpieces of what I have called disturbatory art–art whose point and purpose is to make vivid and objective our most frightening subjective thoughts.

You can read it all here.