Che Guevara on Skates, 2000
Spray-paint and emulsion on canvas
76.5 x 76.5 cm (30 1/8 x 30 1/8 inches)
Stencil-signed “BANKSY”, lower left
Christie’s New-York: 2 December 2020
Eat The Beat Records, Bristol, 2000
Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Spanish, 1928-1967) was an Argentine Marxist Revolutionary, physician, author, guerilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist. A major figure of the Cuban Revolution, his stylized visage has become a ubiquitous countercultural symbol of rebellion and global insignia in popular culture. As a young medical student, Guevara traveled throughout South America and was radicalized by the poverty, hunger, and disease he witnessed. His burgeoning desire to help overturn what he saw as the capitalist exploitation of Latin America by the United States prompted his involvement in Guatemala’s social reforms under President Jacobo Arbenz, whose eventual CIA-assisted overthrow solidified Guevara’s political ideology.
Guevara met Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico City, he joined their 26th of July Movement and sailed to Cuba aboard the yacht Granma with the intention of overthrowing U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Guevara soon rose to prominence among the insurgents was promoted to second-in-command and played a pivotal role in the two-year guerrilla campaign that deposed the Batista regime.
Following the Cuban Revolution, Guevara performed a number of key roles in the new government. These included reviewing the appeals and firing squads for those convicted as war criminals, instituting agrarian land reform as minister of industries, helping spearhead a successful nationwide literacy campaign, serving as both national bank president and instructional director for Cuba’s armed forces, and traversing the globe as a diplomat on behalf of Cuban socialism. Such positions also allowed him to play a central role in training the militia forces who brought Soviet nuclear-armed ballistic missiles to Cuba. Additionally, Guevara was a prolific writer and diarist, composing a seminal guerilla warfare manual, along with a best-selling memoir. Guevara left Cuba in 1965 to foment continental revolutions across both Africa and South America. First unsuccessfully in Congo-Kinshasa and later in Bolivia, where he was captured by CIA-assisted Bolivian forces and summarily executed.
Guevara remains both a revered and reviled historical figure, polarized in the collective imagination. As a result of his perceived martyrdom, poetic invocations for class struggle and desire to create the consciousness of a “new man” driven by moral rather than material incentives, Guevara has evolved into a quintessential icon of various leftists movements. In contrast, his ideological critics on the right accuse him of promoting authoritarianism and endorsing violence against his political opponents. Despite disagreements on his legacy, Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th century while a photograph of him taken by Alberto Korda, titled Guerillero Heroico, was cited by the Maryland Institute College of Art as “the most famous photograph in the world”.