The History of the Che Guevara Sculpture That’s Sending Everyone Atwitter

Enrique Ávila González is the sculptor who created this monumental work.

US president Barack Obama in Havana, Cuba.
Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images.

Barack Obama made history this Monday as the first US president to step foot on Cuban soil since Calvin Coolidge’s visit in 1928. However, as circumstance would have it, the historic moment has been eclipsed by a photograph-gone-viral of president Obama standing in front of a relief of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara.

Since the controversial image first surfaced, social media has been abuzz with surprise and complaint. Peter Orsi, an Associated Press correspondent, tweeted that the conference room let out a “collective gasp.”

Political feelings aside, what is the story behind this work of urban art? The artist behind the sculpture is 63-year-old Cuban native Enrique Ávila González.

Enrique Ávila González with original design.Photo: Courtesy of the artist Enrique Ávila González.

Enrique Ávila González with original design.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist Enrique Ávila González.

In 1993, Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior installed the massive mural relief of Che Guevara against the side of its building in Havana’s Revolution Plaza, a site that has long served as a public gathering place for Cuban citizens.

The template for the sculpture is Alberto Korda‘s iconic portrait of Guevara. In a 2015 interview with Art and Architecture SF, González told the story behind the work, which began with a competition to design an homage to Che.

“I did many, many drawings and sketches of possible formats, until I saw my son tracing lines on a piece of paper,” González told the paper. “I was surprised by its tremendous economy and simplicity, and right away the lines came to me and I immediately saw Che’s character in them.”

The work, titled Hasta la Victoria Siempre, is titled after Guevara’s motto, which roughly translates to “Towards Victory Forever.”

Installation shot of <em>Hasta la Victoria Siempre</em>. (1993)<br /> Photo: Courtesy of the artist Enrique Ávila González.

Installation shot of Hasta la Victoria Siempre. (1993)
Photo: Courtesy of the artist Enrique Ávila González.

The structure is reportedly made of 15 tons of steel. In descriptions of installation images posted to Facebook, González details how the different parts of the sculpture were assembled in front of the Ministry’s building. It has been a fixture of images of Havana ever since.

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