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80 years Che Guevara

Icon of a generation

27.05.2008 - 31.07.2008


WestLicht. Showplace for Photography takes the anniversary of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s birthday as an occasion to re-consider his photographic image in relation to the development of a mythos.

At the centre there is the most often reproduced photograph in the world. It is the portrait of Che Guevara made by the Cuban photographer Alberto Korda at the beginning of March 1960 during one of Fidel Castro’s rallies: an attractive man in a heroic pose, his gaze steadfastly fixed on a point in the distance. Because of his violent death, his philosophy of life as a convinced revolutionary and this photo Che Guevara became a pop icon of the 68 generation within a very short time. Korda’s portrait took on an independent life, becoming a brand name and attaining a cult status that remains unbroken even today.

In the 60s and 70s Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna, known as Che (friend), who was born on the 14th of June became the symbol of the revolutionary left – or for those who passed themselves off as such. He belonged to the small group that landed with Fidel Castro in 1956 and, in a two year long guerrilla war, toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista. “Comandante Che” who has already become a legend during his own life was a medical doctor, suffered from asthma and was a passionate cigar smoker. At 31 he was made president of the National Bank and then Minister of Industry. His attempt to “export” the revolution failed however. His execution in Bolivia on the 9th of October 1967 made him a legend once and for all.

The pictures that will be shown are of the Batista era, of successful revolution on up to Che Guevarra’s death and his transformation into a legend. The exhibition attempts to clarify why, even today, the Cuban Revolution and its protagonists continue to exert such a fascination. The pictures that have come down to us are reminiscent of still from an adventure film and the revolutionaries seem like film stars. The scenes tell of intrepid heroes, death and transfiguration. Additionally photos from Korda’s works that have never been shown before provide insight into his oeuvre both before and after the revolution.

Starting from Alberto Korda’s original print, the icon of all Guevara depictions, the exhibition will be showing mainly vintage prints by Cuban and internationally recognised photographers including Alberto Korda, Osvaldo Salas, René Burri and anonymous photographers of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and their comrades-in-arms.

In the main the exhibition will consist of loans from Christian Skrein, Alfred Weidinger and the WestLicht photo collection.

Alberto Korda: "Che", Havanna 1960 © Alberto Korda
Mario Diaz: "Korda mit seinem Portrait von Che Guevara", Kuba 1990 © Alberto Korda
Alberto Korda: "Guerrillero eroico Che Guevara", Havanna 1960 © Alberto Korda
René Burri: "Che Guevara mit seiner Zigarre", Havanna 1963 © René Burri / Magnum Photos
Alberto Korda: "Che Guevara und Fidel Castro beim Hochseefischen", Hemingway Cup, Mai 1959 © Alberto Korda
Perfecto Romero: Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos changing their hats, Kuba 1959, © Perfecto Romero
Raúl Corrales: “Caballeria”, Kuba 1960, © Raúl Corrales
Anon., Handshake with Ernesto Guevara and Mao Zedong, Peking, November 1960
Zedong“, Staatsbesuch in der Volksrepublik China, Peking November 1960