Colombian artist Botero's Abu Ghraib prison abuse paintings go on display

Dozens of works by Colombian artist Fernando Botero depicting abuse of prisoners by U.S. troops at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq went on display in Rome on Thursday.

The collection of oils and sketches - about 40 artworks in total - include graphic depictions of hooded or blindfolded Iraqi detainees wearing women's underwear and being beaten by U.S. prison guards. The works had not been previously shown in public, the show's organizers said.

The rounded, chubby-looking figures are familiar from Botero works on Colombian life, including images of the 40-year-old conflict in the South American country.

Other pictures show naked or semi-naked Iraqi prisoners lying in groups, and one prisoner dangling by his ankle from the roof of a cell. In one work, a prisoner is being eaten up by three beasts; in another an inmate is tied to the prison bars, blood all over his body.

Abu Ghraib was at the center of an international uproar last year when pictures showing American soldiers piling naked inmates on top of each other and humiliating them sexually became public. The scandal tarnished the U.S. military's image worldwide.

Botero has said in the past he was shocked by the scandal and that his intention was to emblazon the images from Abu Ghraib upon the consciousness of the world.

"I was very motivated," the painter told The Associated Press at the opening of the show Thursday evening. "The idea is to offer a testimony so that people would remember what happened."

"If the newspapers stopped talking, art is still talking," he said.

The Abu Ghraib pictures are part of a larger exhibition of 170 of Botero's works entitled "Fernando Botero. The last 15 years."

Viewer Marco Adanti, speaking at the show opening, said he was struck by the power of the works.

"It is an act of protest by the painter toward what was done," said the 30-year-old Adanti. "It leaves nothing to the imagination."

The exhibit, held at Palazzo Venezia in downtown Rome, runs through Sept. 25.

MARTA FALCONI, Associated Press Writer

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