Nery Espinoza Quevedo and Ingrid Mayrhofer


Sadko Hadzihasanovic’s new t-shirt, with the slogan Yo tuve un hermano and the portrait of an attractive cigar-smoking Che Guevara, points at what lies behind this latest body of work. Going beyond mere infatuation with his subject matter the artist embraces the Cuban boy-scout motto Seamos como el Che (Let’s be like Che). In his new paintings over digital imagery outputs on canvas, the artist and Che are represented in very close association; in at least one drawing Sadko morphs into the very likeness of his hero.
He is alive and talks tonight for CNN documents an interview the artist conducted with Che for CNN. Another piece, Che in Sarajevo 1994, a digital collage plants a monument to Guevara in the town square of Sarajevo. Che is also part of the artist’s extended family tree and of a group of Yugoslav teachers in Bihac; this large work is titled Absolut Che and shows Sadko’s own father as chair of the meeting. The bottle of local spirits, painted over a photograph, which was taken in the late fifties when Che actually visited Yugoslavia, plays on both the commercial application of the hero’s portrait and the photographer’s (Alberto Korda) refusal to give permission for its use for a British vodka logo. Sadko´s chosen method of intervention with digital media suits his challenge of historical narrative in an age when everything is virtually possible.
Putting Che into new places and times ensues from Sadko’s ongoing exploration of male idols. Sadko has previously impersonated a young Napoleon, an American fighter pilot, the Marlboro man and Antonio Banderas whose copy of a Che pose for a movie poster inspired Self-Portrait as Antonio B.
Sadko’s exercise expands the already large realm of unlikely sightings of the Argentinian born hero of the Cuban revolution. The sub-cultural relevance of Che’s image has penetrated inner cities and suburbs alike, and provides a universal face for middle class youth rebellion. Che’s photographs decorate the record covers of subversive rock music and are incorporated into marketing such unlikely products as downhill skis (the Fischer Revolution). The use of his image on Russian tanks during the repression of the Prague Spring was not the last time Che’s memory would be evoked to sell an action that was diametrically opposed to his revolutionary goals.
Seeing Che’s image held high in Mexico among student protests in 1968 is as fitting in the political environment of the era as is Sadko’s proposed artistic discourse on Henry Moore on a Cuban beach in the context of 2002. Over the digital output of a photograph of himself, seen reclining on a beach of pristine white sand somewhere in Cuba, Sadko has painted a small figure of Che Guevara in the lower right corner. Che faces the artist whose pose is that of Chac Mool (1), one of the Mayan sculptures Henry Moore would have observed in the British Museum in his own search for inspiration from other masters. The title of the work, How to explain Henry Moore to Che begs a reversal of the challenge: how to explain Che to Henry Moore?
Henry Moore was 69 in 1967, the year when Che was executed by the Bolivian army at age 39 only to live on as a symbol for revolutionary heroism of mythical proportions in Cuba and for the international left. Moore was born into a working class family that disapproved of his early artistic aspirations. His father, a miner, related art production to manual labour. Che was born and raised middle class and dedicated most of his adult life to the struggle of liberation for workers and peasants in countries far from his home. Like Moore, Che was well educated, well read and well versed in philosophy and art (2).
Had Che and Henry Moore’s fathers met with Octavio Paz to discuss the class struggle, they might have agreed with the Mexican intellectual who illustrates how individual workers become an abstraction as they melt into the generic working class. In his 1950 essay, The Labyrinth of Solitude, Paz also poses the polemic of the revolutionary hero as a legacy of romanticism. The hero gains individual recognition, stands apart from the masses and acquires mythical proportions. In this positioning, the artist and his subject meld into one.
Moore was not concerned with the heroism of the models for his monumental works. He looked at Africa and the Americas for perfect abstraction of form and shape. In the case of Chac Mool, the Mayan warrior who must have earned his own hero status to merit the large number of likenesses throughout Chichén Itzá, the mythological proportions of his persona are reduced to form, shape and material in the hands of the modern sculptor.
Paz suggests that the abstraction of wage labour leads to an absence of the mythical aspects inherent in the creative process. In turn, abstraction of the Chac Mool´s form leaves behind the aura of the figure´s historical significance and deprives it of its mythology. In a typical alienated wage earning day of the industrial worker the history of pre-Columbian art, the revolutionary struggle of Che, the oeuvres of Henry Moore are easily reduced to commodities and sold in souvenir shops - a Moore jigsaw puzzle, Che shirt and Chac Mool hot sauce label. At the same time, Moore’s forms transcend their era, Chac Mool’s presence has withstood the challenges of history, and Che’s image will always be that of the hero.
For Sadko, Che represents the ultimate commodification of hope. His discussion with Che speaks of nostalgia for the Yugoslavia that could have been and for his own twin brother who remained in Bosnia. I had a brothe Ché, says his shirt. Che as role model is universal and in Sadko´s universe Che transcends the limitations of time, space and market. The myth of the hero may well be a legacy of romanticism as Octavio Paz suggests, but the myth of Che Guevara is also a reality for generations of rebels and their nostalgia for Che´s vision expresses a yearning for a better future. Beyond the paraphernalia and flash of the Canadian idol, the image of Che crosses cultures, geographic boundaries, generations and artistic practices.


- Nery Espinoza Quevedo and Ingrid Mayrhofer
October 2003

Nery Espinoza Quevedo and Ingrid Mayrhofer are members of Red Tree, a collective that engages artists and activists in cross-cultural collaboration and inter-disciplinary projects.

  1. We thank Amelia Jiménez for pointing out this connection
  2. Che has often been photographed with a book in this pose, which bears a resemblance to Goethe in the Campagna by Wilhelm Tischbein

 

 

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