I received a response from the museum holding the che exhibit. My response to her follows.
Dear Mr George Moneo
Your enquiry has been passed to me for reply. I am sorry to hear that you disapprove of our exhibition subject matter and read your criticisms with concern. In drafting the exhibition text for Che Guevara: Revolutionary & Icon with the external curator, we have made every endeavour to clearly differentiate the biography of Guevara from the exhibition subject matter. The content of the exhibition has to do with the legacy of an iconic photograph taken by Alberto Korda in 1960 – not the life of the man in the photograph.
As the national museum of art and design, we were fascinated by the prospect of charting the history of a single image – be it propagandised, deified, vilified or parodied. The range of material culture spawned by Korda’s image is the focus of the exhibition. In no way do we attempt to glorify the subject of the portrait, Ernesto ‘Che’
Guevara. In fact, we offer for sale in the V&A shop publications so that people can make an informed decision about the true nature of his life and actions. Much of the exhibition content takes the shape of kitsch souvenirs and joking pastiche. Furthermore, one of the features of the Che Guevara microsite are online interviews with scholars and designers with differing views on the image and its use. Design historian David Crowley makes a point of discussing Guevara’s violent nature in the context of the death certificates he signed.
Unlike Stalin, Hitler or the other figures you mention – whose images are not divorced from their actions, Guevara’s often is. While I take your point that perhaps images should not be divorced from their full contexts, the fact is that this is frequently the case in our modern world and Korda’s Che is a striking example to study.
Again, in no way is the V&A seeking to honour a murderer. We have created a vibrant design exhibition, as is our remit, which in the process raises many issues for visitors to consider.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Here is my response to her:
Thank you your response. If what you say is true, then why are you offering a week’s vacation in Cuba as a prize? The island is still run by the man che gleefully murdered for.
As a web and graphic designer I can appreciate the study you are endeavoring to promulgate. However, just as you would probably be horrified at an exhibit that glorified Nazi “kitsch” and souvenirs, glorifying all those cute medals and SS label badges, we are disgusted that the Korda image, misused for decades to glorify someone who had the same morals as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Pol Pot, is also being glorified in an exhibit. You cannot, as hard as you try, divorce the image from the man and the actions of that man. A photo of Hitler and a photo of che say the same thing.
You can say what you want, but the net effect of your exhibit is just one more way this monster is glorified in the media.
And her final response to me:
Dear Mr Moneo
I am a curator working in one of Britain’s largest national museums. I am only involved in the curatorial aspects and cannot comment on the Public Affairs promotions related to trips, prizes and the like. I do take your points but can only reiterate that from the V&A’s curatorial standpoint, the interest lies purely in a particular design phenomenon.
We are encouraging discussion through debates about politically contentious art and design and are hosting events with contemporary Cuban artists with differing experiences as exiles, Cuban Americans, British Cubans and Cubans who still live and work on the island. Art is not divorced from the world we live in: it challenges, provokes and presents differing viewpoints. I respect your stance and hope that you can accept that the V&A has not in any way actively sought to promote the life of Che Guevara through this exhibition.