Response from the V&A Museum regarding their che exhibit (Updated)

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.

Yours sincerely,

Zoe Whitley
Curator
Contemporary Programmes
Victoria and Albert Museum
South Kensington
London

Here is my response to her:

Ms. Whitley:

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.

Sincerely,

George Moneo
Miami, Florida

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.

Regards,

Zoe

22 thoughts on “Response from the V&A Museum regarding their che exhibit (Updated)”

  1. Since Art is not divorced from the world we live in, I am certain the fine folk at the V&A are aware of these:

    [NYTr] Che’s Copyrighted Image Being Mis-used

    [Utne] Che’s Image Takes a Twist

    Quoting from the latter:

    Apparently, Korda’s estate has sold the rights to the photo to David McWilliams’ company, Fashion Victim, which has its t-shirts produced in Honduras, a country where most clothes are produced in sweatshops. What makes this story so tragic is what makes it so ironic. This “free trade” in Che Guevara iconography has come to a halt in America. What was tacitly treated as leftist cultural property, accessible to all before Korda’s death is now being zealously guarded by a corporate interest that asks a new generation of radicals to buy “Che” symbols produced in Honduras.

    Homework exercise for the reader: Who controls Korda’s estate?

    Hint: How is the capitalist concept of private estate applied in communist Cuba?

  2. At least she didn’t try to defend che himself. The whole concept of divorcing the image from the person and plastering the walls with said image without glorifying the person is lame though. Especially if the image is a portrait!

    It might be wise to move on to Public Affairs then. Zoe’s not budging.

  3. eh, she makes a good point, from the perspective of an art museum… it IS pretty fucking fascinating how the image of che has become so fashionable… I would go see an exhibit that tracks the history of such a thing, even if it were nazi kitsche or whatever…

    on the other hand, george makes a good point about the free week-long vacation… that’s pretty much bullshit, and I probably wouldn’t go to a nazi kitsche museum that was offering a free trip to a hotel staffed by starving jews… not cool, that.

  4. I see the point she’s making here. And I agree to some extent – like pkrupa said – I would probably go to an exhibit that explored (not glorified) nazi icons or terrorist icons, etc. After all, I watch that kind of thing on the History Channel and what have you. The way Che’s image has popped up all over is disappointing to say the very least, but undeniably fascinating.

    Thing is that even thought I might find it really interesting to go to, I can’t imagine a Nazi exhibit that explored the icons (swastika for example) without presenting them at least some of the time in a context that associated it all with terrorism and murder and racism.

    It would be interesting to see whether the image is really all that appears and is discussed here.

  5. The website for the exhibit has a section where you can upload your own images if Che… I’ll be having some fun on photoshop tonight. Anybody else with a knack for design could do the same… I don’t know if or how they screen all that, though.

  6. I think there is a serious issue here that needs to be explored.

    The previous commenters have no problem with seeing this exhibit based on the perfectly natural desire to examine a socio-political phenomena. However, there is a difference between seeing a che exhibit versus an exhibit of Nazi memorabilia: distance. Not physical, but temporal. To many of us, myself included, the history of World War II remains a fascination. That interest may or may not include an examination of minutiae of the war, such as specific histories of SS divisions or of a specific event, like the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

    That temporal distance, however, does not exist in the case of che. He is still being used by the regime he worked for, by the fellow travelers, and by the morons who wear his image for fashion’s sake. That is precisely why this exhibit is so offensive.

  7. I wonder whether the Che with Mickey Mouse ears will be on display. I suggest that someone submit the Che with the bullet hole.

  8. I actually submitted the picture of Che with the bullet in his head yesterday. It has not been posted and I bet 5 to 1 odds it wont be. If what this lady says it’s true, then there should be no problem with the image.

  9. we should ask her for the next exhibition,could be one about hitler,the swastica fashion,etc..etc..or pol pot sandals…oh..so beautiful sandals for summer time in asia,or stalin’s dasha,en fin..otra socialpendeja….

  10. The way I see it, you’re either willing to shake bloody hands or you’re not. They can try to hide behind the mantle of “art” but I don’t buy it. They are profiting from murder, simple as that and using the scene of the crime for a prize.

  11. Oscar, the picture we used of che with bullet hole is not the Korda inage so they cannot use it as part of the exhibit.

  12. I have just finished reading the material on the V & A website about this exhibit, and Ms. Zoe is obviously taking refuge in what she hopes is a soothing fiction (that the history of a single image is what fascinates). But an image is only significant when there is more to it than just what is visible on canvas or paper; it must be capable of bearing meaning and interpretation. And lo and behold, the third sentence in the exhibit’s Introduction states “[The portrait] has come to symbolise anti-establishment, radical thought and action.” On the website, which I encourage everyone to read in order to see how duplicitous the V & A is being, I counted two “charismatic”‘s, one “Christ-like”, one “Rashomonesque”, one “mythic hero” and loads of other drivel. And if you read the material under “Who Is Che?”, you could be forgiven for thinking that he was a sort of sinless version of Kofi Annan, travelling the world and giving speeches. The only pejorative reference to violence (“brutally murdered”) is used to describe how the CIA dispatched him. My goodness, you might think, what could they have wanted to kill him for?? Temporal distance aside, I cannot conceive of an exhibit on Hitler or Stalin that would have the nerve to sugarcoat them in this way — at least not an exhibit held in the free world. I lived in London and used to frequent the V & A, but I say shame on them. They had to stoop awfully low to come up with something like this. I applaud George for taking the bull by the horns, and I am not impressed by their lame response.

  13. Yup, the picture of che with the bullet hole is not a Korda derivative, but Viva Che-eh-eh-eh! is. Maybe Val can submit an entry to their picture gallery, where they are currently displaying a picture of some Italian bozo wearing his che t-shirt. Why not a picture of a Cuban guy wearing a Viva Che-eh-eh-eh! t-shirt? If they don’t publish it, then it’s pretty much “case closed” with regards to their true intentions.

  14. Fantastic idea! Although I think it’s a stretch to them that it would be a derivative of the Korda image. Val? What about it?

  15. Well, George, looking through their picture gallery, there are at least a couple of other pictures that are similar, in style, to the Viva Che-eh-eh-eh! picture. There is a Michael Jackson face insert into the Korda image, and a Prince Charles face insert. So, if these are artistically valid, then, I would think that a chivo insert is even more so. Isn’t purposeful violation of copy-right restrictions an anti-establishment mode of expression endorsed by pinkos everywhere…

  16. I’m sold. Let me write the lady later today and find out the procedure for remitting the image.

  17. George, you can submit a picture directly at their web site, but you will get a message to the effect that they will evaluate your submission before posting it. I have already submitted an anit-che Korda derivative. No luck so far.

  18. Well, I’ll be damned. They did publish my NoChe image. I submitted it a couple of days ago, and followed up with an e-mail this morning. Chalk another one up to Babalúblog for spreading the word…

  19. I think its important to note that the V&A is charging 10 pounds (approx $20 US dollars) to enter the exhibit. The damn Louvre in Paris doesn’t even cost HALF as much. At least they’re hitting every 2-bit leftist thug that goes to see the exhibit with a heavy charge.

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