Guerrilla GirlsGraphic Activism
March 2- March 30, 2005
Established in New York City in 1985, the Guerrilla Girls have made it their mission to detect and monitor sexism and racism in the art world, and in culture and society more broadly. A collaborative activist feminist group made up of an anonymous membership of artists and art professionals, the Guerrilla Girls first emerged to protest a 1984 Museum of Modern Art exhibition that included few women artists. Since that time, their posters have used biting humor, shocking statistics, accessible graphics, and parody to target institutions including museums, galleries, art magazines, theaters, and Hollywood as well as powerful cultural and political figures. Besides greater awareness of gender and racial inequalities, their goal is economic change at individual and institutional levels for women and people of color.
The group’s posters, plastered on walls in Soho and the East Village in Manhattan, shook up the art world with their irreverent accusations. Using stickers, bus ads, magazine spreads and large-scale billboards displayed in public spaces, the artists’ work also tackles inequalities in the New York theater world and the film industry. Their books, including “The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art”, have offered populist alternatives to standard art history surveys by critiquing the systematic inequalities that exist within museums, universities and the artistic canon, and by exposingstereotypes of women in society in general.
Since their inception, the Guerrilla Girls have participated in actions, demonstrations, performances, and workshops, protesting discrimination while wearing gorilla masks. Each member of the Guerrilla Girls is known by the name of an often-neglected woman from history such as Käthe Kollwitz, Frida Kahlo or Hypatia. This collective anonymity allows the Guerrilla Girls and the public to focus on the issues of sexism and racism rather than on each member’s individual biography and fame. The references to both ‘gorilla’ and ‘guerrilla’ deliberately refer to the aggressive, uncivilized behavior of untamed animals as well as the subversive, underground activities of guerrilla warfare; clearly, the Guerrilla Girls realize that taking on mainstream culture requires stealthy strategy as well as a ferocious sense of humor.
The group’s activist and performative approach situates its works within strains of modern art that intentionally challenged social norms and traditional art. The Guerrilla Girls are part of an artistic tradition that includes Dada and Futurist art of the earlier 20th century, Happenings of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the AIDS activist artists’ collective Gran Fury of the Reagan era. The group’s use of text and appropriated imagery is shared by other political artists such as Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, and Erika Rothenberg. Along with these other artists, the Guerrilla Girls focus on public spaces as the most effective sites for artistic interventions on issues of cultural, social, and political significance.
Evoking the spirit of such liberating avengers as Wonder Woman, the Guerrilla Girls have infiltrated the art world establishment despite their subversive beginnings, and have revised our understanding of the practices, institutions, and models of art history and criticism. In 2004 they won the prestigious Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism given by the College Art Association (CAA), the professional academic organization that represents art historians, museum professionals, and artists. The art world and society has changed since 1985 but the conditions of inequality that the Guerrilla Girls address still need their attention and ours.
Guerrilla Girls: Graphic Activism is part of Women’s History Month at Kingsborough Community College. Special thanks for support and inspiration to Janice Farley, Chair of the Art Department; Deborah Lewittes, Assistant Professor, Art Department; and Estelle Miller, Director of the Women’s Center.
Do Women have to be Naked to Get into the Met Museum? 1989
The Advantage of Being a Woman Artist1986
Are Bus Companies more Enlightened than NYC Art Galleries?1989
The Poster that Intimidated Pace Gallery into Showing a Woman under Fifty1993
Cover, New York Times Magazine, October 3, 1993courtesy of Walter Dawes
The Token Times1995
Traditional Values Return to the Whitney Museum1995
How to Enjoy the Battle of the Sexes1996
Guerrilla Girls go to the Oscars2001
Send Estrogen Pills to the White House2003
The Woman's Terror Alert2003
The Birth of Feminism2001
The Anatomically Correct Oscar Billboard2003
The Trent L'Ottscar2001