|Gavin Turk as Che and Elvis on ArtNet|
A shi-shi hotel in Miami's South Beach removed a self portrait by Brit Gavin Turk featuring him dressed in the iconic Ernesto "Che" Guevara garb- beard, beret and all, that was captured in the 1960 Alberto Korda photograph. Naturally, the exile Cuban community did not take kindly to seeing the Che-inspired portrait hanging in the halls. After all, Che was not a nice man, and he was instrumental in bringing communism to the land.
Although Che has been revered by those who obviously have no clue who he really was, there are many who see him as an "evil, racist thug". All it takes is a quick Google search to find a myriad of articles discussing his major failings as a human being.
The real Guevara was a reckless bourgeois adrenaline-junkie seeking a place in history as a liberator of the oppressed. But this fanatic’s vehicle of ‘liberation’ was Stalinism, named for Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, murderer of well over 20 million of his own people. As one of Castro’s top lieutenants, Che helped steer Cuba’s revolutionary regime in a radically repressive direction. Soon after overthrowing Batista, Guevara choreographed the executions of hundreds of Batista officials without any fair trials. He thought nothing of summarily executing even fellow guerrillas suspected of disloyalty and shot one himself with no due process.
Che was a purist political fanatic who saw everything in stark black and white. Therefore he vociferously opposed freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, protest, or any other rights not completely consistent with his North Korean-style communism. How many rock music-loving teens sporting Guevara t-shirts today know their hero supported Cuba’s 1960s’ repression of the genre? How many homosexual fans know he had gays jailed?
He was not the hero many make him out to be, so naturally Miami Cubans were a tad miffed. They lobbied via social media and phone calls to have it removed, and the W South Beach Hotel complied.
Regarding Turk's portrait, from 1999:
A poster of the Artist as Che Guevara, repeated four times in they style of an Andy Warhol screenprint. Originally made as an advertising poster.
The inspiration behind Turk’s Che Guevara art works is the Alberta Korda photograph of the infamous Argentinean freedom fighter whose wild hair and beard, guerrilla beret and long distance stare came to personify the ultimate symbol of rebellion. Interested in the role of the outsider but also, how images and symbols are reduced to cliché through reproduction and repetition, Turk’s Guevara is transformed into a Warholian screen print, where the formerly rebellious is re-appropriated as cliché. But this Che is also given the “Gav” treatment, with Turk’s face replacing that of the Marxist hero as he continues his exploration of the uneasy relationship between artist/outsider and the market, advertising, celebrity and branding.