This acrylic painting by Adrian Rumbaut shines a spotlight on the icons Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) and Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967).
In the work, Adrian Rumbaut has reproduced Alberto Korda’s famous 1960 photograph of Che Guevara, and he inserts his vision of American Richard Avedon’s iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe as well. In the letters on the side of the painting, Rumbaut gives credit to both Korda and Avedon for their images, and provides the date of his painting.
Interestingly, Korda worked as a fashion photographer as a young man, and he wanted very much to be the Richard Avedon of Cuba. He photographed the “beautiful people” of the Batista era before the revolution, and models lined up in front of his studio to have their picture taken. Surprised by the “triumph of the revolution” in 1959, he worked subsequently with Raul Corrales, Castro’s official photographer, to capture the excitement of the revolution. In his image of Che, something survives of his earlier experience with beautiful women.
Korda’s image of Che — snapped in 1960 and also known as Guerrillero Heroico — has been repeatedly reproduced worldwide, serving as both a symbol of protest and as a fashion accessory.
The iconic photo has taken on increasingly exotic forms, each created with different intentions and evoking varied responses. Marilyn Monroe, Jesus Christ, Madonna, and Princess Diana have all had their pictures adapted and inserted under Che’s familiar red star beret. It isn’t an exaggeration to note that Che the icon has overtaken Che the revolutionary.
The original “Che” photograph was taken at a dangerous moment, a time when the new revolutionary government was preparing for imminent US invasion. It was at the start of the Cuban Revolution’s second year, and Castro’s government had ordered a boatload of weapons and ammunition — mostly rifles and grenades — from Belgium. The armaments were loaded onto a French ship, La Coubre which, unfortunately, exploded upon arrival in Havana Harbor in March 1960. The crew and 75 Cuban dockers were killed. More than 200 were injured.
The incident was reminiscent of the destruction of the US battleship Maine in the same harbor in 1898, raising questions as to who was responsible. Was it American sabotage, or was it an accident?
At the funeral ceremony for the dockers, Fidel Castro claimed that the explosion was the work of the Americans.
The celebrities Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir shared the platform with Castro, and behind was Che Guevara, the man who had invited them to Cuba.
Alberto Korda, a photographer working for the newspaper Revolucion, snapped away at the luminaries. For a moment there was an empty space in the front row, and in the background the figure of Che appeared. Years later Korda told Jorge Castaneda, one of his biographers:
He [Che] unexpectedly entered my viewfinder and I shot the photo horizontally. I immediately realised that the image of him was almost a portrait, with the clear sky behind him.
Korda took two shots of Guevara, but neither photograph attracted the attention of the picture desk of Korda’s newspaper.
The photo of Che was first printed a year later in an advertisement for a lecture that Che was giving in April 1961. The photo ended up appearing twice since the lecture was postponed due to the Bay of Pigs invasion. The picture then disappeared for several years. Not until August 1967 was the Korda photograph printed abroad.
Two months after the photo appeared in Paris Match, in October 1967, Guevara was captured in eastern Bolivia and shot. Castro addressed a huge memorial rally at the Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana. He faced a huge blown up photograph of the Guerrillero Heroico that had been placed over five stories of the building housing the Ministry of the Interior. A more permanent metal sculpture is in that location today. The vital connection between the recently martyred Che and Korda’s evocative photography had been established.
Che’s image soon went viral abroad. Korda liked the photograph and had it pinned up in his studio. He would sometimes give a copy to favored guests like Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, a radical Italian publisher who blew himself up outside Milan in 1972.
Che’s diary of his Bolivian expeditiion surfaced in Havana in 1968. Shortly thereafter, Castro gave Feltrinelli the Italian rights, and the book was published in Italy with the Korda photo on the cover. Feltrinelli also arranged for the printing of hundreds of posters that gained tremendous popularity with Italian students demonstrating during the summer of 1968. The image spread through Europe as a symbol of student struggle and international protest.
Adrian Rumbaut Rodriguez was born in 1973 in Cienfuegos, Cuba. After graduating from the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas in Havana in 1991, he returned to Cienfuegos where he co-founded Grupo Punto, a consortium of visual artists that has achieved world reknown.
As a solo artist, Rumbaut has participated in more than fifty exhibitions in Cuba and abroad, including the 11th Havana Biennial.
Widely collected, his work has earned more than twenty awards, and is found in both public and private collections in Cuba and around the world.
Rumbaut is included in the book Art Cuba: The New Generation edited by Holly Block and published in 2001 by Harry A. Abrams, Inc.
Collection of Cuban Art World (ReynoldsWolfe LLC) | Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe