Che: An Irish Tall Tale

Here’s a perfect example of why “news” distributed by mainstream sources should always be taken with a grain of salt. The Press Association, “the UK leader in news and sports information”, distributed a news release on Feb. 22nd that was picked up by a number of news websites. The story concerns a painting of singer Sinead O’Connor created by artist Jim Fitzpatrick. The Press Association story, titled Naked Sinead portrait goes on sale, reported that Fitzpatrick’s painting, Strange Days (portraying Sinead reclining on a purple sheet and wearing only a necklace and stockings), was sold at Dublin’s Whyte’s Auctioneers for 15,000 Euros.

The inaccurate part of the story as reported by The Press Association is the following; “The painting is by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, the creator of the iconic monochrome picture of revolutionary Che Guevara.” That struck me as being entirely incorrect. The man responsible for the famous image of Che is famed Cuban photographer, the late Alberto Korda. That fact can be verified at the following webpage: www.art-for-a-change.com/Month/korda.htm

I wanted to be certain I had my facts straight, so I contacted three of my associates who are specialists when it comes to the study of Latin American political art. David Kunzle is a professor of art history at UCLA and the author of Che Guevara: Icon, Myth, and Message, a book that traces Che as he’s appeared in posters and artworks internationally. Carol Wells is the founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. Lincoln Cushing, a graphic designer and long time collector of Cuban posters, is also the author of ¡Revolución!: Cuban Poster Art, a visual survey of the history of poster art created in the wake of the Cuban revolution. All three professionals verified that Alberto Korda was the creator of the famous photograph. No doubt The Press Association’s erroneous information can be attributed to a lack of fact checking.

The news agency assumed Jim Fitzpatrick to be telling the truth when on his website he asserts that his earliest work was “the legendary Che Guevara poster of 1968 published just before his death in Bolivia.” Aside from the fact that Che was killed in 1967, the aforementioned experts confirmed that Korda’s photo had already been translated into poster form internationally as early as 1967. By 68 there were so many artists making Che posters based on Korda’s photo that Fitzpatrick is very lucky indeed to have made the “legendary” one. Fitzpatrick would be closer to the truth if he stated he was the first in Ireland to make a poster of Che… but it still would have been from Korda’s photo.

Fitzpatrick offhandedly remarks on his website that his poster was “based on a photograph by a then unknown Cuban photographer” - but the time has long since past when Korda was unknown. Fitzpatrick asks that viewers of his online art “remember to acknowledge my copyright at all times”…an entitlement he should extend to the internationally famous Alberto Korda. I wrote a polite letter to The Press Association informing them of their error, but they have not replied.

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