An Post released a new €1 stamp to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the revolutionary, Ché Guevara’s death.
The stamp in question depicts the iconic work of Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick. The image in question is of course Fitzpatrick’s famous two-tone painting of a photograph of Guevara by Cuban photographer Alberto Korda.
The image itself sparks controversy where some see it as a symbol of freedom and rebellion, others merely see a reminder of a hate figure and a murderous regime.
The decision however, has come under fire and been met with backlash, particularly from Ninoska Perez Castellón, a Cuban-American radio host who is a prominent member of the Cuban exile community in Miami. Castellón was a guest on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland and was perplexed as to why Ireland would “celebrate a man who slaughtered so many people”.
She informed Morning Ireland that she had many Cubans contact her radio show who were distraught at the “offensive” stamp. “It doesn’t matter that it’s an image created by an artist, it’s the image of a murderer.”
She was clearly outraged by Ireland’s decision and sees no honour in Che Guevara or any of his actions. “To me it’s really shameful that Ireland would put the image of someone who was a foreigner, went to Cuba to kill… was a failure in everything he did. So, I don’t know what’s there to honour about Che Guevara.”
The radio host went on to discuss how pop culture has made him a symbol that he is not, how it has glossed over the brutal killings and harsh government with commercial t-shirts and other merchandise branded with the image.
“Every time that I see someone with a t-shirt or that I see a country put his face on a stamp, I think what did he do to deserve this? What have been his achievements?” asked Ms Perez Castellón.
Jim Fitzpatrick however, seems to have opposing views. He feels that freedom always comes with a price and that unfortunately liberation and rebellion can often lead to unfortunate deaths. He draws comparisons to Irish history and in particular Michael Collins. Speaking to TheJournal.ie, he said: “Incidentally a lot of the criticism [the stamp is] getting is from people like Lucinda Creighton. She was in Fine Gael, started by Michael Collins – who I’m a great admirer of by the way, because he wiped out the Cairo Gang – and that wasn’t done with oranges and potatoes or melons, that was done with bullets.”
Fitzpatrick has an interesting take and comparison. Whereas Collins is met in Ireland with celebration and a great sense of national pride, Che Guevara is met by some in his own country and around the world as a controversial figure. Both are known for revolution, rebellion and guerrilla warfare, yet Collins is a hero, Guevara, a rebel and a murderous villain.
Fitzpatrick is still very proud of his painting and finds it a great honour that his work is being commemorated on a stamp. “I think any Irish artist who’s put on his own country’s postage stamp, you swell with pride when you see it.” He has also come to accept the controversy surrounding his iconic image.
One gripe he does have is with the use of the picture. Fitzpatrick famously kept the image copyright-free so that it may be used by anybody in times of protest. However this has led to many companies and fashion trends exploiting the image and putting it on anything from t-shirts to cigarette packets. He wants to reclaim Ché saying: “I don’t care about people using it on t-shirts or sticking posters up on a wall that they print out themselves. But big business exploiting this image annoys me intensely.”
So why has the Irish Government and An Post made the decision to honour a man who has been labelled a ‘murderer’ and ‘racist’? For starters, Ché Guevara has Irish roots and his father even said once of his son: “The first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels.” However, only three weeks ago Aer Lingus had to remove advertisements at Miami International airport featuring Ché Guevara among figures of Irish descent. But, the Department of Communications told RTÉ that the “subject matter for stamp designs are presented to government in advance. This particular subject matter was submitted and approved in December 2015 as per normal procedures.”
The work is a recognised symbol around the world and was painted very proudly by an Irish native. Although controversial, the image has come to transcend the man himself and become a symbol of freedom and rebellion. For a country entrenched in those words, and with an Irish man the artist behind the symbol, is it worth looking past his atrocities to commemorate Guevara and what he stood for?
By: Lee Shields