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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 14:50 GMT
Artist Turk opens Guevara fortnight
Gavin Turk
Turk: Che Guevara has figured in several of his works
Leading British artist Gavin Turk has begun a two-week exploration of the life and influence of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

Turk will be holding a range of Guevara-inspired public events, including film screenings and debates, at the New Foundary bar in East London from Monday.

The purpose of the fortnight is to examine how the image of the infamous Marxist has been used and appropriated over the years in all walks of life.

Korda and his famous 1960s photo of Guevara

"I am trying to deal with real issues rather than simply visual or artistic issues," Turk told BBC News Online.

"My aim is also to reach an understanding about the way the image of Guevara has come to stand in not only for a man but also for a whole set of ideals and propaganda," he added.

Turk, 33, is considered one of the artists at the forefront of the 90s resurgence in visual arts.

He has been granted £5,000 to hold his Che Gavara (sic) Story fortnight by the Year of the Artist fund - which aims to bring art out of its normal gallery environment and into the general public's domain.

Among Turk's most famous works is Pop, made in 1993 - a waxwork of himself as Sid Vicious in the stance of Warhol's Elvis.

But, he has also made several pieces involving Guevara. Last May, he exhibited a life-size sculpture of himself in the pose of the dead revolutionary.

In addition, he made a number of works using the famous 1960 photograph taken by Alberto Diaz Gutierrez, also known as Korda.

It was after these works that Turk - for whom individual identity had been a focus of much of his work - decided to take Guevara as a starting point for discussion.


The two weeks will be split into different theme days, such as looking at the way Guevara is used in African politics.

He will focus on how the image of Guevara has been watered down over the years - particularly by the corporate world - so that it has lost much of its original power.

Chairman Mao as painted by Andy Warhol
Chairman Mao as painted by Andy Warhol

"His image has been used in so many ways that it has become diluted and clichéd," said Turk.

"It is almost decorative now and more synonymous with its context than Guevara or his ideals.

"Often people who have a picture of him on their shirt, for example, won't even know who Che Guevara was.

"Corporate sloganing has taken over individualism in a very negative way."

The face of Guevara has spawned many a poster, song and bereted lookalike.

Turk admits to being particularly interested in the issues of copyright surrounding the Korda photo.

Korda never tried to protect his picture until drinks company Smirnoff used it for a campaign in the late 90s.

He then decided to take them to court to assert his intellectual property rights.

Turk agrees that similar figures in history have also come to symbolise much more than just the person - for example, Marilyn Monroe and Chairman Mao.

However, the popularity of all things to do with Guevara cannot be denied. Turk received a big response to an advert calling for people to take part in his time at the New Foundary.

However, he has not committed himself to producing a definitive conclusion, concluding only that he hopes to put down some sort of written "collective idea".

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09 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Pop goes the Royal Academy
27 Dec 00 | Entertainment
The year art was hot
28 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Photographer wins Turner Prize
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