Like most people, you probably recognise the portrait of Cuban Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara made by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick in 1968 based on a photograph by Alberto Korda shot in 1960.
Guevara’s determined and powerful facial expression, his eyes fixed on the horizon, and the star decorated beret has made this portrait into one of the most iconic and recognisable in history.
The first recorded appearance of this iconic two-tone artwork in a protest movement outside of Cuba was in the West Bank and Gaza protests in 1968 which turned it into an icon—not only for Marxist revolutionaries—but almost any protest movement. Today the portrait also has been adopted by the fashion industry only for its visual appeal which has diluted the socialist- and Marxist connotation which it originally possessed.
This connotational dilution is not one Fitzpatrick neither wanted or anticipated when he designed this iconic work as a celebration of the communist revolution. The moment his art was published, though, it was no longer he who controlled its meaning.
What graphic designers can learn from this is that the meaning of design work never can be ruled by the artist who creates it. The minute a creative piece of work gets published and seen by others; it is the viewer who states its meaning, not the creator.