279.4 Image and consciousness: Che Guevara's face in the Arab revolutions

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 11:21 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Maria-Carolina CAMBRE , Sociology, King's University College at the University of Western Ontario, Burlington, ON, Canada
This multimedia presentation will first document, describe and show images of Che Guevara as seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain and Palestine during the recent "Arab Spring" and since then. With particular attention to the cases of Egypt and Palestine, I will conduct an visual sociological asking: Why this? Why here? Why now? What is this image doing/being in the context of the Arab Revolutions? What are the implications for both viewers and those who "use" (or are used by) this image?

The visual activism of primarily youth on the street in conditions of conflict and crisis takes many forms. This paper delves into the visual vernacular of the moblization and performance of the famous iconic image of Che Guevara that seems to mysteriously appear wherever and whenever there are revolutionary conditions and/or massive protests. In the 1980's being seen publicly sporting an image of the "infidel" Che Guevara, whether on a t-shirt or by carrying a posted, was a punishable offence in many Arab nations. Yet in Palestine there is grafitti with Che's image, Palestinian refugee camps also have walls bearing spray paint renderings of this portrait. The recent eruption of revolt across North Africa and the Middle East has also seen an explosion of this image's presence on the visual plane of the street. Using Alfred Gell's notions of art and agency (1998) focusing on the social context of image production, circulation, and reception as a theory of the nexus of social relations involving visual artworks, this presentation suggests that in certain contexts, images not only substitute for persons and thus mediate social agency but also peform and authorize certain subject positions. In these ways, the use of images is already action in the social sphere.