PROA 21 is a new space dedicated to emerging art in Buenos Aires. It is located in the Boca district, close to Caminito and Bombonera, on the banks of the Riachuelo and a few steps from the headquarters of the traditional Fundación PROA.
Built where the studio of three Argentinean painters and a sculptor used to be, Benito Quintela Martín, Miguel Victorica, Fortunato Lacámera and Julio Vergottini, PROA 21 opened in April with the exhibition Project for The Day You Want Me.
The work, by Argentine artist Leandro Katz, brings together for the first time the cumulative installations made between 1993 and 2007, which deal in depth with the defeat of Guevara in the late 60s in Bolivia. The nine installations, now accompanied by two films, focus on the importance of images, photographs, in the lives of guerrilla characters. In their defeat and in their deaths.
Now 80 years old, Leandro Katz began this work in 1987 when he examined the famous photo of his countryman Ernesto Guevara, who died and was shown to a handful of journalists in October 1967, in the laundry room of the hospital in the small town of Vallegrande, where he had taken after being executed in La Higuera, at the end of his defeated Bolivian experiment.
“There, on the floor, was something vulnerable, soft; I could see it through a photographer's jacket and a soldier's boot, there on the floor: was it the underside of an arm? And whose arm was it? “, Leandro Katz refers to something far from the main focus of the photo.
For curator Cuauhtémoc Medina, Katz is a producer of visual and written images and his restlessness with the photo led him to dive into an investigation that went far beyond the frame of that photograph.
The first researches led him to Freddy Alborta, the author of the photo, until then attributed to the editor of UPI/Reuter who had distributed it via radiophoto. The interview that Leandro Katz did with Alborta is in The day you wanted me (1997) one of the two films that are part of the exhibition.
In the film, Alborta describes the trip from La Paz to Vallegrande of the approximately 22 journalists – two photographers among them – and the surprise he had, both with Guevara's dead body, with his eyes open and a half smile on his face, and with the two bodies thrown on the ground, of the guerrillas Willi and Chino. And it was to one of them that the arm that had intrigued Leandro Katz belonged.
In the other film that is part of the exhibition, exhumation (2007), is the interview with the Argentine forensic expert Alejandro Incháurregui who went to Bolivia, 30 years later, in 1997, and identified the remains of Che Guevara. Incháurregui is the same expert who participated in the identification work of the Nazi Josef Mengele, in Brazil in 1992 and later, of Santiago Maldonado, in Argentina, at the end of last year.
Also on the walls of PROA 21 are the contact proofs and enlargements of the negatives produced on that day, October 10, 1967, at Hospital Nuestro Señor de Malta, in Vallegrande, by Alborta. Images that served as inspiration for the essay by the British critic and writer John Berger, who drew analogies with the works of Mantegna, the dead christ (1480) and Anatomy Lesson from Dr. tulp (1632), by Rembrandt.
In another of the installations there is a research-based chronology that confronts more than ten sources – among them the Bolivian Diary, by Guevara himself and How did I capture al Che, by General Gary Prado Salmon – and describes the events from May 13, 1963 to October 17, 1997, that is, the background, facts and some of the consequences of the guerrilla war in Bolivia.
Here are four short excerpts:
October 7th, 1967 – We complied with the 11 months of our inauguration guerrillera without complications, bucolicly; until 12.30 hours when one vieja, grazing her chivas, entered the canyon where we had camped and had to catch it. The woman has not given any reliable news about the soldiers, contesting to everyone that she doesn't know, that she hasn't gone there for a while...
The Army gave a rare information about the presence of 250 men in Serrano to prevent the pass of the fences in number 37 giving the zone of our refuge between the Acero and el Oro river. The news seems diversionary – Bolivian Diary by Ernesto Che Guevara.
October 8, 1967 – It is reported that the enemy is in Churo, where las Quebradas Racetyllo and Jaguey join. At 11:30 hrs. he's attacked by las Comps. A and B , there are 3 dead and 2 heridos, among these last ones is Che Guevara and 2 dead soldiers and 4 heridos, all of whom are brought to La Higuera-
No Disparen, Soy El Che, by General Arnaldo Saucedo Parada.
October 9, 1967 – Communiqué from the Armed Forces: “…a) Ernesto Che Guevara fell into the power of our troops seriously injured and in full use of his mental faculties. – After having ceased the combat, he was transferred to the population of La Higuera at least at 20:00 pm on Sunday, October 8, where he died as a result of his inheritance.”
Like Capturé Al Che, from General Gary Prado Salmon.
October 9, 1967 – “A la una de la tarde I left the school and afuera esperaban el Sgto. Mario Terán y el Tnte. Pérez quienes seemed to be intoxicated. Les ordené that they don't shoot a la cara bello del cuello to abajo. Ten minutes later I heard the shots.”-
“Shadow Warrior, The CIA Hero of a Hundred Unknown Battles” – Félix I. Rodriguez
Two women appear in Katz's work. One of them is Monica Ertl, who is part of the post-guerrilla phase and was the one who killed Roberto Quintanilla Pereira with three shots in 1971, then the Bolivian consul in Hamburg. He is the soldier who appears in the famous photo with his hand in the hair of Guevara's corpse.
Still in the words of Cuauhtémoc, Katz's work addresses the way in which mid-XNUMXth century photography permeated the whole of social experience. Guevara was an image producer and not only for the making of disguises like the one he used to enter Bolivia, via Madrid and São Paulo with a shaved head and the identity of Dr. Adolfo Mena González, OAS official. Guevara carried his camera with him as an ideological instrument. This “guerrilla lens” is the theme of the installation that focuses on Tania, the other of the two women.
Haydeé Tamara Bunke Bider – Tania was her name in the guerrillas – died before Guevara in the clashes with the Bolivian army, on August 31, 1967. Like Guevara, Haydeé/Tania also photographed a lot. They recorded the daily lives of the guerrillas and intended to use the material for propaganda purposes later, as happened in the Sierra Maestra, in Cuba, in the late 50s. In Bolivia, they produced rolls and rolls of photos. Many were not even revealed. They were found in the camps, in Guevara's backpack, in Tania's belongings and ended up working as a double-edged sword. More than anything, the photos served to identify the guerrillas and, later, supreme humiliation, were used to illustrate the books published by the Bolivian military, such as the one by General Gary Prado, above mentioned.