I didn’t buy the T-shirt, but that doesn’t mean the iconic image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara wasn’t before my eyes everywhere I went the past 10 days. Che has become the definitive symbol of rebellion, a legendary leader of revolution, and in this widely reproduced image a 20th c. pop culture icon.
At the right is the popularized cropped version of Guerrillero Heroico, as the photograph taken by Cuban State Photographer Alberto Korda during a speech by Castro at the funeral for the victims of the La Coubre explosion in Havana, Cuba. It was taken on March 5, 1960 and Korda willingly shared the image when anybody he could- gratis- in order to share the ideals of Che. Korda has said that when he shot the picture he was drawn to Guevara’s expression of “absolute implacability” as well as anger and pain.
Slogans, such as “Hasta la victoria sempre” and “una de las mas nobles formas de servir a la Patria es consagrarse al trabajo,” appear next to the image, restating his ideals and beliefs in the revolution. By the end of the 1960s, mass produced posters and lithographs and the adoption of the image by Pop artists, turned the image of the charismatic and controversial leader into a cultural icon around the world. His death in Bolivia in 1967 elevated his status to that of a martyr, and his popularity in Cuba, where his family still resides, remains as high as ever. This image of him was first seen in Cuba at his funeral, and since proliferated there as it has in the rest of the world.