The Portrait of Che Guevara

Carrie McMullan

A specially commissioned painting of the portrait of Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara was unveiled in The Hive at DCU on February 6th.

Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick who created the piece attended the event alongside DCU Vice President Professor Daire Keogh and DCU Students’ Union President Vito Moloney Burke. The painting was donated to the university on a long-term loan by a DCU alumnus, according to a press release by DCU.

Fitzpatrick completed the original portrait in 1968, five years after meeting the man himself at the pub where he worked in Co. Clare. In an interview with the Irish Times in 2007, Fitzpatrick explained that while growing up he was “on the side of rebels, anywhere” and thus recognised Guevara when he walked into the pub.

Fitzpatrick exhibited the portrait in London following Guevara’s death at the hands of the Bolivian army in October 1967 in an effort to show his anger about Guevara’s execution.

“He was shot in the neck and left to drown in his own blood, because they didn’t want to harm his face, so they could prove it was him,” he told The Irish Times.

Che Guevara was a leading figure in communist Cuba alongside brothers Fidel and Raúl Castro. Together they built up a small guerrilla army to overthrow Cuba’s dictator Fulgencio Batista. Following the revolutionaries’ victory, Guevara spent years as the minister of industry in the Cuban government and took part in many guerrilla groups in the Congo and Bolivia.

Moloney Burke drew on the similarities between the symbolism of the portrait and the attitude of the current generation of students.

“The iconic image of Che Guevara is going to be one that fits into our new home magnificently. Jim Fitzpatrick’s portrait has come to represent the vibrancy that the student movement in Ireland thrives on, having inspired generations,” he said in the press release.

The painting has come up against opposition since its creation most recently from Cuban-Americans when the portrait was printed on a limited run of postage stamps to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara. Cuban exiles held Guevara accountable for the executions of hundreds of prisoners, according to an article in The Irish Times in 2017. Guevara took control of Havana from Batista in 1959 and spent a number of months at La Cabaña prison where he oversaw the execution of those deemed to be enemies of the revolution.

A Cuban-American radio host Ninoska Perez Castellón spoke out against the stamp. Castellón told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that she had received complaints about celebrating “a man who slaughtered so many people”. She said that his profile was “a propaganda myth created by communism”.

Propaganda art began to become commonplace during World War I. The paintings and posters created connected art and politics to spread powerful and influential messages. Propaganda was primarily used by those who supported the principles of the political sciences of communism and fascism and leaders such as Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini.

While wars gave prominence to propaganda its existence dates back to the times of Ancient Greece. The people of Greece lived under an absolute power but those living in Athens were very aware of the social problems in the city. The Athenians would put on plays, create games and hold religious festivals through which they pushed propaganda ideas. The use of propaganda became a power play in wars and revolutions from this point forward.

Propaganda is entirely subjective as seen by the reactions to the Che Guevara portrait. Regardless of its symbolism, it will remain a powerful piece of art.

 

Carrie McMullan

 

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