She’s lying sidelong and sultry on a squat square slab. Soft hip, winged fingertips and dimpled chin rising toward the glow of a desert sky.
Spiky saguaros and peachy sun-drenched mountains welcome her to her new home.
Her dark bronze skin drips.
Anyone standing in the space she now holds in Arizona can see she is living far from the Colombian who first dreamed of her. She’s an ancient siren basking at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.
You can join her among the succulents.
Fernando Botero christened his muse the “Reclining Woman” in 2007. A goddess under the relentless Arizona sun, it’s easy to think she may have chosen another name. Easier to think she’s lived long before the beginning of Botero or any human-bound time.
For months, people who love Botero and his iconic creations worked to bring his art to Arizona. No one expected Botero would die three weeks before the sprawling exhibit was birthed in the desert’s garden.
His creations live on in the “Fernando Botero: El Maestro” exhibit amid thousands of species of cactus, trees and flowers.
For Colombians, Botero remains as one of the greatest representatives of their culture. He is a national pride and one of the most influential Latin American artists of recent times.
Linda Escorcia Norquist is a member of the garden’s board of trustees. She sees the Botero exhibit as a distinction for her Colombian people in the United States.
“As a Colombian, it is an honor that someone of that stature comes to Arizona,” she told Arizona Luminaria. “You can see the culture of the country.”
The exhibit is an opportunity for American communities to learn more about Colombian art, history and culture.
Most of the pieces “portray Colombian customs, about the typical Colombian family, the coffee plantations, banana plantations,” Linda said.
‘Proud of our heritage, our roots’
Born in Bogotá, Linda chose to immigrate to Arizona more than 20 years ago so she could marry her fiance, an American named Tyler Norquist. They now have two children, Devin Rodolfo and Allison. But Linda’s parents and her sister had to emigrate for safety.
If you go
- “Fernando Botero: El Maestro” is on exhibit at the Desert Botanical Garden now through March 31, 2024.
- Purchase tickets here.
Her mother was a judge in Colombia. Linda says her mom was kidnapped for nine months by the Colombian guerilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. In 2004, her mother requested political asylum in the U.S. to protect her life and her family.
Afterward came a process of adaptation for the Colombian family. They learned to live away from their culture, though they never stopped missing their people and their native home.
“We Colombians are very proud of our heritage, our roots,” Linda said. “We are driven forward — we like to work, dance, and have many friends. A Colombian can have everything against them but they never let themselves fall.”
The Colombian population in Arizona is among the fastest growing Latino groups. From 2000 to 2021, there has been an increase of 11,998 Colombians living in the state, according to U.S. Census data spotlighted in a “DATOS” report by the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. That’s 492.3% more Colombians than there were in 2000 when the population was 2,437.
Now there’s an estimated 14,435 Colombians living in Arizona. Still, Linda feels an absence of her people’s presence in the state.
“I don’t feel like Colombian culture is represented here — there is only one Colombian store and few restaurants,” she said.
She works to keep her Colombian traditions rooted in Arizona.
“We are party people, but we are more into celebrating at home,” she said “We celebrate our independence on July 20, the Battle of Boyacá on August 7, the Barranquilla Carnival in February and we venerate the Virgin of Chiquinquirá and the Divine Child Jesus in Colombia.”
The Botero exhibit is a chance to unite Colombians in Arizona.
“I personally hope that the Colombian community goes and visits the collection that is a national pride for us — I hope they jump at this opportunity,” said Linda, her voice rising as she gushed about Botero. “He is one of the Colombians we are most proud of.”
Making Botero’s exhibition at the Botanical Garden possible was monumental work carried out with the support of the Museum of Latin American Art, or MOLAA, in Long Beach, California.
“The artworks in the exhibition are generously lent by the Botero Family, the Museum of Latin American Art and several private art collectors,” said Laura Spalding Best, senior director of exhibits at the Desert Botanical Garden, in an email to Arizona Luminaria. “Every artwork in this exhibition is an incredible example of the Maestro’s “Boterismo” style.”
Famous standouts in the garden:
The voluptuous figures of Botero revolutionized modern art by challenging volume and space.
While seemingly non-controversial rotund depictions of everyday life are strong themes in Botero’s artwork, he never shied away from illustrating politics through the creative lens.
One of his most famous paintings, “The Death of Pablo Escobar,” embodies the violence in Botero’s home country by documenting the bloody drug lord’s demise. In the painting from 1999, Escobar holds his hands before him as he’s spattered with bullets on a rooftop in Medellín.
Botero’s political illustrations were not limited to Colombia. In 2007, he depicted the torture of Iraqi prisoners by Americans at the Abu Ghraib detention center. Botero answered questions about the famous series of 87 drawings and paintings.
“Anti-American it’s not. Anti-brutality, anti-inhumanity, yes,” he told the publication, SFGATE.
A desert tribute
Now Botero’s creations have arrived in the Arizona desert for the first time for those who wish to learn more about the iconic Colombian artist.
“Fernando Botero’s life and work are synonymous with Latin American art and culture,” Spalding Best said. “This exhibition honors Botero and the Latin community, placing him as one of the most well-loved and significant artists of his time. No matter where Botero lived or traveled in the world, he was devoted to depicting daily life in Latin America and returned to that subject matter again and again over the course of his career.”
Botero’s art — both in cherubic paintings and in volumetric sculptures — led a man born in the most humble neighborhoods of Medellín to international recognition for his signature style known as “Boterismo.”
“My style comes from the conviction that the voluptuousness of the form is a source of joy. And art should give pleasure,” Botero said in a 2018 interview with Vanity Fair.
Botero’s death on September 15 spurred a global mourning. He was 91 years old. He died in Monaco, Europe.
“The entire exhibition acts as a tribute to the artist’s life and legacy,” Spalding Best said.
Ken Schutz, executive director of the botanical garden said he is thrilled to bring Botero’s first major exhibit to Arizona.
“The Garden’s art exhibitions have become a vibrant and compelling point of pride in the Valley’s cultural scene since 2009,” Schutz said in press release.
Botero’s works of art can be found in more than 200 museums around the world, from Singapore to the New York Botanical Garden, according to the Desert Botanical Garden’s website.
Among the more than 20 works of art exhibited at the Desert Botanical Garden, two monumental bronze sculptures stand out.
“We are excited to work with the Botanical Garden to provide a unique and immersive experience that celebrates Botero’s indelible contributions to the realm of Latin American art,” said Lourdes Ramos-Rivas in a press release. Ramos-Rivas holds a doctorate of philosophy in fine arts and serves as president and CEO of MOLAA.
“We couldn’t be more delighted to display his artwork surrounded by the spectacular beauty of the Sonoran Desert,” Ramos-Rivas said.
Botero is no longer in this world.
His art prevails.
In the desert garden, the reclining bronze woman stretches her hand to the sky. Perhaps, as an eternal goodbye to the artist who painted Colombia enormous, like his work.
Reporters Dianna M. Náñez and Carolina Cuellar contributed to this article