Seventy years after her death, displays in Buenos Aires, including a vast collection of pictures shown online, recall the life and times of "Evita" Perón, the Argentine first lady turned icon of popular culture.
BUENOS AIRES — Her death in 1952 at the age of 33 helped turn the Argentine first lady Eva Perón — known to millions as Evita — into one of the iconic faces of the 20th century, alongside other Argentines like the singer Carlos Gardel, the guerrilla leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara, and soccer stars Maradona and Messi.
Evita, née María Eva Duarte, became for many the defender of the poor — and to her detractors, the mother of Latin America's brazen populists — as she pushed for civil rights, gender equality and social programs for the poor in her time as first lady of Argentina in the mid-20th century.
To mark the 70th anniversary of her death (which fell on July 26), Juan Cantafio, possibly the biggest collector of magazine covers in Latin America, paid her tribute by organizing an online display of part of his vast collection of Evita pictures and press material, gathered over a 50-year period.
The many phases of a brief life
Cantafio, an arts director and design specialist, has come to possess more than 500,000 magazine covers from all periods. He curated the popular FACES exhibition that displayed parts of his collection in the San Martín arts center in Buenos Aires earlier this year.
At home Cantafio has more than 10,000 objects relating to Evita, ranging from some 8,000 magazine covers from various periods to press cuttings, dolls, postcards, statuettes, books in several languages, engravings, records, CDs, tapes, films, original and digital photographs, and film and television posters featuring the many actresses that have played Evita.
'Immortal' is the appropriate word.
This unique compilation spans the various phases of Perón's life: from her beginnings in 1942 as a radio actress in Buenos Aires, to her later phase as a local film star, her social activities as wife of the president, General Juan Domingo Perón, the shattering impact of her death in 1952 and subsequent transformation into an Argentine legend.
The Cantafio Collection has enough material to fill an exhibition at a national museum. Parts of it can be seen on a commemorative website, Evita Inmortal Argentina.
Cantafio insists the collection should not be taken as a sign of his support for Peronism, the social-democratic current led by Evita and her husband, which has since had a preponderant influence on Argentine politics. The idea of an exhibition, he says, came as he was classifying his memorabilia before the pandemic and found he had "an impressive volume" of items on Evita.
Scores of people attended a rally on the 70th anniversary of the death of Eva Perón on July 26, 2022.
An immortal icon
He says 'immortal' is the appropriate word to use for Evita, as she is not only well-known but remain of interest, even today, 70 years after her death. Images of Evita are still "being reproduced, re-elaborated and redesigned," he says.
More than 100 women have played Evita's role, notably U.S. singers Madonna in the film based on the musical by English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Donna Summer, who played her part in the musical in San Francisco.
Cantafio has pictures of the first actress to depict Evita, the Frenchwoman Andrée Debar (1920-1999). In 1953, she visited Argentina with her husband, the film producer Roger Duchot, to obtain the rights to the role. They were not given the rights but produced the first dramatized film on Evita, and a play in Paris the next year.
He says Debar "had great admiration and curiosity" for the contrasting aspects of Perón's life: her accelerated and conflictive life and delicate health, her Dior dresses, and the historical moments she lived, including meetings with the Pope or with Spain's General Franco in 1947.
The magazine covers are a record of her experiences. One shows her in shorts and a Boca shirt, kicking off a soccer match in the 1940s. Others show her as Evita Montonera, dressed as a leftist Montonero militant. The collection includes 1,000 digitized versions of pictures by Alfredo Mazzorotolo, an official photographer to the presidential couple.
Numerous commemorative events to mark the 70th anniversary of her death included an exhibition of paintings by Daniel Santoro at the Kirchner arts center, music and readings at the National Auditorium and a display of Evita's collection of Spanish folk dresses at the Museo Larreta.