Tonight I braved the central London heat to discover Cuba in Kensington or at least the Che Guevara: Revolutionary & Icon opening at the V&A. I was pleasantly surprised for my £5. The exhibition managed to be much more than just another excuse to roll out Guevara, providing both an absorbing biography of Alberto ‘Korda’ Diaz’s famous image and a satisfying meditation on iconography.
Arranged around a series of ideas – amongst them revolutionary, saint, pop and emblem – was a strong, if far from exhaustive selection, of ways the most reproduced image in photography has been utilised. From advertising to agitprop, it did not try to reconcile the contradictions between commercialised guerrilla chic and genuine symbol of liberation, but instead revelled in exploring them. Even the usual banal context information you get in galleries was relatively informative and pretension free. They kept it simple, but provocative, revolving around a series of themed quotations (my favourite being Ariel Dorfman’s ‘Deep inside that T-shirt where we have tried to trap him, the eyes of Guevara are still burning with impatience.’)
To add to the opening’s atmosphere, there was also the prospect of Cuban hip-hop, barbecued titbits and mojitos. The recreation of a Fidel event was a little too authentic for me. An alleged state socialist utopia was evoked by every patch of green in the V&A garden being covered by people and queues for food and drink the size not seen in this country since the Winter of Discontent. Given this, the only red star Surreal Girl and I ended up eating under tonight was that of the Wagamama logo.