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CHE GUEVARA: THE STORY OF AN IMAGE
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
7th June - 28th August 2006
Reviewed by Cardinal Cox

Che Guevara

Che Guevara Books available from Amazon.co.uk: The Motorcycle Diaries; Che Guevara; Travelling with Che Guevara; The Bolivian Diary; Che Guevara and the Mountain of Silver; Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War.

Write Dope on Pnuk part 13

There are a number of iconic images from the twentieth century - Lord Kitchener pointing. the flag raised on Iwo Jima, the execution of the Viet Cong prisoner, etc. One of the most recognisable, and hence played about with, is the portrait of Che Guevara. This exhibition, touring around the world, is about the photograph taken by Alberto Korda Diaz.

It was no staged or studio shot, rather one of two frames, quickly snapped, taken at a rally to mark the death of a hundred Cubans, where Castro was giving a speech. Published in 1961, it spread through Latin America and the left-wing block of countries, and into the west, especially after Che's capture and execution in 1967.

Amongst the selection of posters using the image is one by the brilliant Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, printed on foil. In the notes, Jim claims to have met Che in a pub in County Clare a few years before his death. Now I don't know everything about Che's life, so it is possible, but I just don't remember between the revolutionary activity in the Congo and Bolivia, that he had a stag weekend in Ireland.

I own a Che t-shirt in a Warhol style, so I was intrigued to discover the history of this particular set of images. Apparently a skint American poet, Gerard Malanga, faked the Warhol design and was selling them off. Andy Warhol discovered this and agreed to authenticate them (as this sort of fitted in with how his Factory worked anyway) - as long as he got the profits.

Amongst the more off-putting uses of the image in order to sell products were Madonna, Ricky Gervais and Magnum ice-cream (with Cherry Guevara flavour). Also, though more curious but understandable, is the poster for '70s Anarchist magazine 'Black Dwarf' - drawing a veil over Guevara's Stalinist leanings.

Another section is about the style of the Che picture being appropriated into religious iconography, such as the 'Meek. Mild. As If' poster used by churches. This section was accompanied by the quote: "I am the very opposite of Christ...I will fight with all the arms within reach, instead of letting myself be nailed to a cross."

The exhibition concluded with a selection of film clips, including 'The Motorcycle Diaries'. In the shop, as well as the usual range of merchandise (badges, postcards, a t-shirt), there were also berets, lip salve (I kid you not) and the finger puppet. I'm afraid I had to buy one.

V&A - Che Guevara Revolutionary & Icon

 

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