The Guerrilla Girls – art activism at its finest
Dear Guerrilla Girls,
In this shining new millenium it’s still hard to be a female artist, so thank you for making a stand. And for doing it with grace and humour and gorilla masks. And now, if we may, we’ll pass our readers over to your own public service message…
Love, Mookychick xxx
The Guerrilla Girls Best Known For:
Shaking up the art world, having a sense of humour, and wearing gorilla masks to get their point across.
The Guerrilla Girls Least Known For:
The Guerrilla Girls were and are completely anonymous. Only a few people know how many of them there were. During their public appearances they used code names, those of dead women artists and writers such as Frida Kahlo, Eva Hesse, Alice Neel etc. to draw attention to their achievements.
Who wouldn’t want to dress up in high heels and a gorilla mask?
Best Guerrilla Girls Quotes:
“Over the past 10 years, we’ve come to resemble a large, crazy, but caring dysfunctional family. We argue, shout, whine, com plain, change our minds and continually threat en to quit if we don’t get our way. We work the phone lines between meetings to un der stand our differing positions. We rarely vote and proceed by con sen sus most of the time. Some drop out of the group, but even tu al ly most of us come back, after days, months and sometimes years. The Christmas parties and re unions are terrific. We care a lot about each oth er, even if we don’t see things the same way. Everyone has a poster she really hates and a poster she really loves. We agree that we can disagree. Maybe that’s democracy.”
The Guerrilla Girls Links:
The Guerrilla Girls’s background:
Every profession needs a conscience. And the guise in which an often guilty conscience appears is characteristic of the profession in question. The guilty conscience of the art world during the 1980s and 1990s bore the name Guerrilla Girls and wore short skirts, net stockings, high heels, and gorilla masks.
They were a group of artistic writers and film-makers whose success in the early 1990s paralleled a crisis in the art market. Their humour and love of provocation was a retaliation against the society of the spectacle (a society based on fast-food culture and demands for novelty and speed, not reflection and thought), yet they also proved to be a role-model and soon their railing against the spectacle became de rigeur and part of the spectacle itself.
They were guerrillas before they became gorillas. The history of the Guerrilla Girls began in 1985, at an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Of the 169 artists participating, only 13 were women.
The Guerrilla Girls demonstrated against this imbalance in front of the museum. Passers-by remained unimpressed. Learning from this, the group began to embarrass the art market itself – collectors, artists, gallery owners – by announcing their omissions on posters in New York’s SoHo.
The ape masks were inspired by King Kong, appropriating an image of masculine dominance to put the public in the role of the frightened masses.
The guerrilla masks bobbing through their videos and films provoked the old prejudice that feminists were women who couldn’t catch a man. Yet the point of the Guerrilla Girls’ exercise was to breathe life into feminism by means of new tactics and strategies.
In 14 years they designed over 70 posters and print objects, and mounted demonstrations protesting against gender prejudice and racism in the art world.
The Guerrilla Girls were not ‘quota queens’. They didn’t demand that 50% of art on display in art exhibitions should be made by women – they just pointed out that only 10% of it was.
They have argued that art made by women and minority artists is truly different from that of their male colleagues. If art is a reflection of experience, and if we agree that gender and race influence this experience, then logically their art must be different.
If someone needs a King Kong mask over her head to get into a museum, the museum has reason to scratch its own head. All the Guerrilla Girls wanted was museum and gallery art to reflect a true picture of cultural history, not merely the part contributed by males.
by Frank Frangenberg for ‘Women Artists in the 20th and 21st century’