Medellín pays tribute to hometown artist Fernando Botero

Locals place flowers in the bronze sculptures of artist Fernando Botero in Medellín. Photo: Austin Landis.

Hours after Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s death on Friday, dozens of yellow and white flowers adorned each of the twenty-three bronze, rotund statues that have become fixtures of downtown Medellín, the Antioquian capital where the artist was born in 1932.

Flower farmers from outside the city handed out blooms for tourists and residents of Antioquia alike to place on the figures scattered throughout Plaza Botero, as they wandered to take in the works and the news of the world-renowned artist’s passing at age 91.

Carlos David Marin Restrepo, who was visiting the plaza from Amagá, a town outside Medellin, with his mother, called Botero an important global representation not only of Antioquia, but of Latin America.

“In Colombia, there have been, in the past, bad figures, as we all know,” said. “But … in Colombia very good people have been born, too, for example this man who rests in peace.”

Across the plaza, Julio Cesar Torres held up a miniature bronze souvenir of Botero’s head, a version of the artist’s self portrait made to look like one of his famous rotund, metal statues. It was the most popular choice for visitors on Friday to purchase, he said.

“He was antioqueño, he was from my land,” said Torres, who sells the souvenirs daily. “He represents my land very well, and I feel very proud of that.”

Earlier in the plaza, the mayor of Medellin, Daniel Quintero, led a tribute to the late artist, and later listened while a small ensemble of string instruments played a version of “Yesterday,” by The Beatles.

He called him the “most important sculptor and painter” of Colombia.

“The works of Botero are part of our culture, they’re cardinal points, just like the mountains,” he said. “We wouldn’t be who we are without him.”

The mayor has been criticized this year for closing off Plaza Botero with police-branded metal barriers and designated entrances, in order to secure the space in an area of Medellin where crime, such as theft, is more common.

Botero himself wrote to the mayor in February to confirm that his intention was that the plaza and museum be an open space “for all citizens.”

Luzcely Hernandez Rosario, a resident of Medellín, said she was one of the people who called on the mayor to not close it completely. She visits often, and decided to return on Friday after hearing about Botero’s passing.

“It’s very sad,” she said. “But he leaves us the greatest legacy, [his] works, to continue contemplating, so that future generations see what he meant.”

Mayor Quintero announced seven official days of mourning for Botero throughout the city, which will include musical events, lectures and displays to remember the late artist.

A collection of flowers also began to form Friday afternoon on the steps of the Museo de Antioquia, displayed in front of a lifesize cutout of Botero himself. The museum displays another 189 of his works, with rooms dedicated to the native artist.

Yellow flowers from farms in Antioquia were placed at the statues of artist Fernando Botero. Photo: Austin Landis.