10 Minutes with Fernando Botero Zea

86-year-old Fernando Botero and his well-known larger-than-life depictions of people

With Malaysia’s 14th general election in the rear-view mirror  – and with a new chapter of democracy and ruling power in place – there is no time more fitting to speak to Fernando Botero Zea aka Botero Jr, who was in the middle of Colombian president Ernesto Camper’s political scandal, acting as Defence Minister under him.

“Is there anything you wouldn’t want to talk about?” I cautiously asked the son of the irreverent painter-sculptor Fernando Botero, as we sat at The Drawing Room in St. Regis Kuala Lumpur, in the presence of his father’s largest sculpture, Horse. The now-writer and lecturer chuckled and dismissed my concerns, charged with desire instead to talk about his new calling.

How did you go from politics to art? 

About seven years ago, I was involved in ‘Botero in China’, a project exhibiting Botero’s work. Between Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, we had 1.5 million visitors – a huge success. After that, I received many invitations throughout Asia to talk about Boterismo. I now spend a large amount of time doing it, averaging on 70 lectures a year.

What kind of impact does art have in conveying a powerful political message? 

When you think about it, art does not have the power to transform reality, but it has the power to create a symbol. During WWII, there were horrible massacres, and thousands of villages were destroyed. Picasso’s political masterpiece Guernica is one reminder of the tragedies of war. In a similar way, Botero’s strokes in painting the agony and restoring the dignity of Iraqi prisoners allow the horrible incident in the Abu Ghraib detention centre to be remembered. Art lets a person express what he feels, in bringing a historical event to light.

How would you describe Boterismo?

Boterismo is a way of seeing the world in a style that is unique and monumental, that celebrates volume and sensuality. The most common question people ask is, “Why does your father paint fat ladies?” It is a valid question, but it misses the point of Botero’s work. Botero has imagined a world where there are large depictions of reality: women are large, men are large, horses are large. To quote him, “The orange I create is more of an orange than a real orange.” His work is exaltation of reality and a celebration of life.

Sensuality and volume go hand in hand for Fernando Botero

Where do you think Boterismo will be in the next 20 years? 

My father would agree with the Woody Allen phrase, “I dont want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” [laughs] Unfortunately, human beings have a finite existence. I’m sure my father would be satisfied if he continued to live through his work, especially if it’s appreciated all over the world.