Che: The icon and the ad

In the forty years since Che Guevara was executed, his image has become a global phenomenon.

Or as BBC puts it: “The most reproduced, recycled and ripped off image of the 20th century” (the company seems to be living in the past, lol).

Before we go any further, here’s Alberto Korda’s photograph:


And Jim Fitzpatrick’s reworking:


It’s one of the most recognisable images in existence, even if it’s not necessarily tied to Guevara’s communist ideals. His rebel/revolutionary persona has given it credence, and his death in such mysterious circumstances added to the mythology. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez wears a T-shirt with a small portrait (tis here, bottom right of the search).

The image has also been adapted by religious groups such as the Churches Advertising Network:


Trisha Ziff, the curator of a touring exhibition on the iconography of Che, told BBC:

“There is no other image like it. What other image has been sustained in this way?” asks Trisha Ziff, the curator of a touring exhibition on the iconography of Che.

“Che Guevara has become a brand. And the brand’s logo is the image, which represents change. It has becomes the icon of the outside thinker, at whatever level – whether it is anti-war, pro-green or anti-globalisation,” she says.

Its presence – everywhere from walls in the Palestinian territories to Parisian boutiques – makes it an image that is “out of control”, she adds.

“It has become a corporation, an empire, at this point.”

He has to be spinning in his grave at that last comment. Were his revolution to be more widespread — and it is an icon for indigenous peoples in South America — he might accept this cult status as a useful political and ideological tool. But to call it a corporation? An empire?

Am I missing something?

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