Consider this blog a vigil for my friend Sonja Wagner, who lies gravely ill in a Manhattan hospice. If you don't know about Sonja and her multifaceted art, please check out my article "The Life of Sonja" published recently in The Village Voice.
Last week, as an addendum to the Voice article, I examined her Dead Blondes triptych, paintings of three sex symbols who died tragically: Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and JonBenét Ramsey. This week I'll look at Sonja's take on three men who left ugly scars on the early years of the 21st century. Two of them are dead; the third one is undead. They're the kind of men whose faces most people never want to look at again. But to her they were a source of inspiration. Sonja calls them The Crusaders and The Great Dictator. As with Dead Blondes, she was exploring her own emotional reactions to horrific events. The images are based on prints of photographs taken from the Internet, which Sonja then hand-painted to give them their distinctive quality.
Dick Cheney, vice president under George W. Bush; Saddam Hussein, former president of Iraq; and Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda, were warmongers and terrorists who brought unfathomable misery to the lives of millions of people around the globe. For those of you who have forgotten, here are thumbnail sketches of their most notorious atrocities:
"There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," Cheney, the most powerful vice president in American history, stated, unequivocally, in 2002. This led to the disastrous US crusade against Iraq, and the deaths of approximately 7,000 American soldiers and between 275,000 and 306,000 Iraqi civilians. No weapons of mass destruction were found. Now retired from politics, Cheney is kept alive with a mechanical heart.
Between 1979, when he assumed the presidency of Iraq, and 2006, when he was hanged, the Great Dictator Saddam (as he was known) conducted a crusade against his own people in order to remain in power, committing systematic murder, maiming, torture, imprisonment, rape, and repression.
Bin Laden, scion of a wealthy Saudi family, was the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, crusade against America, attacking New York and Washington with hijacked airliners, which brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center and slammed into the Pentagon, destroying a portion of the building. (A third hijacked plane heading for the Capitol building, in Washington, crashed in Pennsylvania.) US Navy SEAL Team 6 shot bin Laden in the head in May, 2011, in a compound in Pakistan where he'd been hiding out for five years.
Just as Sonja transformed schlocky pornography into fine art, she transformed these two Crusaders and one Great Dictator into iconic images that some collectors have hung on their walls in the name of irony, which I think would please her.
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