I've been invited this morning to speak about torture during the "opening exercises" of a neighboring Friends meeting. Even though I'll be speaking to Friends, I have to admit that I'm apprehensive. Even Friends are squeamish these days about topics that are too controversial or --heaven forefend!-- "political." I guess there's historical precedent. Many 19th-century Friends thought that activism for the abolition of slavery was too "worldly" a pursuit. Today we brand a topic "political" when we want an excuse to ignore it because it's uncomfortable. And I have to admit that I also lose heart sometimes and feel that no one really cares. We all have work, our families, bills, and now the presidential elections to occupy us. Candace Gordon really made the issue personal for me with her postings on her client Abdul al-Ghizzawi. I think of him lying in pain and probably destined not to come out of Guantánamo alive. He's what motivates me.
So I've asked myself how I can personalize the topic, make it more real. I had one of Fernando Botero's Abu Ghraib paintings enlarged and I'm going to show it.
As Mia Fineman, writing in Slate, says quite well:
By portraying the Iraqi prisoners as stylized Everyman figures, Botero's pictures do something that even the most vivid photographs of torture don't do: They encourage us to identify with the victims....By tackling [the imagery of torture] in a focused and extended series, has demonstrated not only that such things can be represented in art but also that a figurative, cartoonish idiom may be the most powerful means of representing modern atrocity. It's no coincidence that one of the most profound and affecting works of Holocaust literature—Spiegelman's Maus—is a comic book. To some viewers, the chubby figures in Botero's paintings may appear ridiculous, grotesque—but so were the monstrous abuses of power to which they testify.
Oh yes, and I'm also bringing a big basket of muffins that I baked. Something do with catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Well, have to go practice my spiel.