It didn’t take long for me to go down a rabbit hole in searching for ideas. I was so excited to be challenged to utilize one of the most famous images of the 20th Century!
But I kept hitting a blank wall, or more accurately, a blank face.
After much thought and reflection I realized the image just didn’t mean anything to me anymore. I have revered it for years, and yet it never really questioned why. It was all magically based on Che’s expression—so intense, so magnetic, and all too simple.
Dangerously simple. It took me years to look beyond the parroted myth of Che, so find a more complex and confilcted man, though no less interesting. There is a huge difference though between the man and the icon that has come to represent him and his ideals.
There is an interesting book that charts the course of Korda’s Che titled: Che Guevara: Revolutionary and Icon by Trisha Ziff who also directed Chevolution.
It is common knowledge that the image has been adapted and abused so much in pop culture that in my mind any significance Che’s image may have had was long co-opted or perhaps lost altogether.
When I look at the image now in my imagination I just see a blank face, or one smeared out or painted over.
It’s impossible to discuss Che and not Not to mention the sad arc of Marxist Socialism in practice during the 20th Century. The enduring legacy of armed leftist radicalism is corpses.
While I think Marx was correct on numerous observations, particularly Capitalism, his vision overshadowed one critical detail. Human nature. Che failure is directly linked to this complexity.
Even given a choice some people will choose to exploit or manipulate or be self-serving.
Soviet Russia was a dark experiment on a large enough scale to prove that. In Cuba the system also proves unsuccessful, doomed to the flaws of human nature and the idea that one ideal must dominate over all overs, at the expense of individual freedom, not to mention economic and political.
but I digress….
I knew right away that my idea had no traction for the documentary project, but personally it promised to be an interesting experiment. I decided to just do a adaptation for my own self published art and culture zine Fluxion.
The first version was a literal interpretation of my original idea, where Che’s face was simple painted over.
From there I decided to do a more simplified, stylized version (see above).
I adapted that version into a sticker.
I have heard that some people thinking the red on the face in the stylized version indicates blood. That was not my intention. I envisioned paint to obscure the face. Red was just the most striking color to use. The image is NOT intended to disrespect Che, or dismiss him as a person of importance.
My adaptation isn’t really about Che at all.
I do not share his belief in violent struggle. I am sick of violence.
My image adaptation is about the commodification of the representative image in culture. We look outside ourselves for ideas, for inspiration, for leadership.
I wanted to create something that reversed that, to put the responsibility back on the viewer.
I believe we should question our own actions and choices more critically. We must become our own heroes.
Che, the man, was a fascinating force of energy, and contradictions….
“As a young medical student, Guevara traveled throughout Latin America and was transformed by the endemic poverty he witnessed. His experiences and observations during these trips led him to conclude that the region’s ingrained economic inequalities were an intrinsic result of monopoly capitalism, neocolonialism, and imperialism, with the only remedy being world revolution. This belief prompted his involvement in Guatemala’s social reforms under President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, whose eventual CIA-assisted overthrow solidified Guevara’s radical ideology.
Later, in Mexico, he met Fidel Castro and joined his 26th of July Movement. In December 1956, he was among the revolutionaries who invaded Cuba under Castro’s leadership with the intention of overthrowing U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Guevara soon rose to prominence among the insurgents, was promoted to Comandante, and played a pivotal role in the successful two year guerrilla campaign that deposed Batista.
Guevara remains a controversial and significant historical figure. He was a ruthless disciplinarian who unhesitatingly shot defectors. Following the Cuban revolution, Guevara reviewed the appeals of those convicted as war criminals during the revolutionary tribunals, ratifying sentences which in some cases utilized firing squads.
As a result of his perceived martyrdom, poetic invocations for class struggle, and desire to create the consciousness of a “new man” driven by “moral” rather than “material” incentives; Guevara evolved into a quintessential icon of leftist-inspired movements.
Che’s visage was also reconstituted as a global marketing emblem and insignia within popular culture.“
His image, primarily Korda’s famous image of him, has been co-opted so many times that by the end of the 20th century it has been rendered essentially meaningless pop fodder.
The radical leftist movement is a relic of the 20th century. It’s methods corrupted it’s potential to live up to it’s ideals.
Che said “I don’t care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting.” and plenty did. And in their wake is nothing but death and ruins.
I was heartened by the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe in the late 80s.
They prove change is possible without violence.
Che also said “I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.”
I agree with this wholeheartedly. This was the source of inspiration for my adaptation of the image, which is, in my mind, in the spirit of his original idealism, adapted for our times with a strong memory for violent missteps by armed movements in recent history.
Che is corrent when he says it is our responsibility to liberate ourselves… and I would add an emphasis on practical ideas, courage, good works and compassion, not violence.