(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – March 2022.)
Last February fellow regular collaborator George Cheyne wrote the splendid article Wall Of Fame for this excellent blog. He explored the numerous posters we had back in the 70s (disguising the embarrassing Winnie The Pooh wallpaper in my case). A great article but I fear he missed one important iconic image.
The Che Guevara poster.
Mine, if I remember correctly, was handed down to me by my eldest brother when he flew the nest. To me it was some Cuban revolutionary guy in a cool beret. That was the extent of my knowledge and the lack of interest for further research as a pubescent adolescent.
With the advent of time and the emergence of easy use internet search engines, I now know differently.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara (14 June 1928– 9 October 1967) was from a wealthy Argentinian family. He was a Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist.
His nickname che is a common filler or interjection used in Argentine Spanish a bit like eh in Canadian English or ken in some Scots dialects.
Whether he was on the side of good or evil, I’ll let his biographer, Dr Peter McLaren have his say.
The current court of opinion places Che on a continuum that teeters between viewing him as a misguided rebel, a coruscatingly brilliant guerrilla philosopher, a poet-warrior jousting at windmills, a brazen warrior who threw down the gauntlet to the bourgeoisie, the object of fervent paeans to his sainthood, or a mass murderer clothed in the guise of an avenging angel whose every action is imbricated in violence—the archetypal Fanatical Terrorist.
As a quasi rebellious teenager, I may have had slight left leaning world views not like the watermelon I have now become in old age – green on the outside and red in the middle ! – but since this is an apolitical platform I’ll leave it at that !
It’s the iconic poster I want to concentrate on.
Guerrillero Heroico was the original photograph taken by Alberto Korda in Havana, Cuba on the 5 March 1960 at a memorial service. Another figure and a palm tree were cropped out to give the image an ageless quality.
Che’s image remained in Cuba for the next 7 years used in newspapers occasionally advertising conferences he was to speak at. In 1967 wealthy Italian newspaper publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli while trying to negotiate the release of a French journalist captured as a part of Guevara’s guerilla operations in Bolivia, asked the Cuban government for a suitable image of Che. Because he was a friend of the revolution, Korda gave him 2 prints for free. Feltrinelli then distributed thousands of images to bring awareness to Guevara’s precarious situation and ultimate demise.
In 1967 Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick printed the image in it’s now familiar black and red adding a subtle ‘F’ on the shoulder. It was used as a symbol in the May 1968 Paris student riots. In 2008 Fitzpatrick signed over copyright to a paediatric cardiology hospital in Havana.
One of the great icons of the 20th century evolved into a popular and heavily commercialised icon that often strayed far from Che’s hard-line Marxist message.
So, a bit more than some Cuban revolutionary guy in a cool beret.
For the record, I did also have a beret that was commandeered by my girlfriend (now wife) in the 80s. I blame Bananarama – a different kind of revolution perhaps !
I wonder if in years to come teenagers will have a stylised poster of Volodymyr Zelenskyy on their bedroom walls – Some cool Ukrainian war hero dude.
I hope so. Viva la Revolución !