Remember all of those times when you were so incredibly infuriated that all you wanted to do was scream out your opinion, but you didn’t? Perhaps that was because you were afraid of the response? Enter: The Guerilla Girls. This famous feminist group found a way to tell the world exactly what they wanted to say, by turning heads with their wit. In masking their faces with that of a gorilla, these women are able to focus all of their attention exactly where they want it – on sexism in visual art. The Acadia University Art Gallery is fortunate enough to have featured The Guerilla Girls in a solo exhibition in 2009, and now – 31 years since The Guerilla Girls began – they are still going strong. Read on for the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of these powerful women.
The Guerilla Girls, located in New York City, are a feminist group of women who began their work in 1985 (“Home”, n.d.). Nobody at the time seemed to be publicly questioning the huge discrepancies between the work of male and female artists on display in major galleries and museums, thus the Guerilla Girls did just that. Their original protest was directed at the Museum of Modern Art’s 1984 exhibition, “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture,” as it featured a mere 13 women artists out of 169 artists in total (The Guerilla Girls, 1998). As the Guerilla Girls were the first to cause any “fuss” surrounding sexist representation of artists in galleries and museums, the use of gorilla masks became both an innovative and incredibly strategic part of their work (2015). When in public, and on various poster campaigns, the Guerilla Girls concealed their faces in these masks. This has since acted as a way for the Guerilla Girls to protect their identities and careers from the negative response of various institutions and artists, as the women work in the visual art industry (2015). The masks have also made it very hard to “troll” the Guerilla Girls, as when non-masked they are visibly unattached to the Guerilla Girls. Furthermore, concealing the faces of each woman allows all of their public attention to be on the sexist issues at hand, rather than the women fighting the issues.
In an interview with journalist Emma Brockes for The Guardian, three of the Guerilla Girls discussed the Guerilla Girls’ 30th anniversary. One girl explained, “I’ve been in the Whitney for example, and there’s lots of people there that I know in my non-masked persona and I’m seeing them in my masked persona. They have no idea. It’s like having a superpower” (2015). This ability to lead two lives has allowed for the women involved to pursue a “normal” life as an artist, but also to protest for equality in arts representation. In their most famous campaign, the poster – which is on permanent display on the first floor of Acadia University’s Beveridge Arts Centre – reads: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum? Less than 3% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 83% of the nudes are female” (Digital Print, 2005). As one of the original protest posters of the Guerilla Girls, this statement has become well known, especially considering it was plastered across the city of New York. The Guerilla Girls have since continued to produce posters and stickers searching for equal representation of women artists in the visual arts, but have also mentioned that as they enter their 30th and 31st year as a group they are not solely focusing on that. This slight adjustment in focus works to include a discussion of billionaire art collectors and their say in both what art goes on display and what gets purchased. These billionaires are the people fueling the art market (2015). While the Guerilla Girls accept that art collectors are able to pay, they do not accept that their money is able to control the art institutions. In other words, money should not choose which person’s work gets to be displayed. Stemming from this is a new campaign which produces “overemphasis on money as a criterion for success in the art world.” The Guerilla Girls beg the question, “Is this the way culture is produced?” (2015). Yet again, the women take a leap of faith. As they try to separate money and power, the Guerilla Girls are working toward a culture produced authentically, rather than through the power of financial wealth.
Today the Guerilla Girls continue to fight against sexism and racism in visual arts, but also in popular culture and film. And, while the rest of the visual art world remains quite serious, the Guerilla Girls state that they are “appreciated for bringing a certain joy to an otherwise stuffy and bloated environment” (2015). Fun and groundbreaking? Sounds pretty good to us.
If you have any further questions about the Guerilla Girls sound off in the comments below. We hope to have you back here surfing the blog again soon!
Erica Marrison (Outreach and Collections Assistant)
- Brockes, Emma. (29 April 2015). The Guerilla Girls: 30 Years of Punking Art World Sexism. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/apr/29/the-guerrilla-girls-interview-art-world-sexism
- The Guerilla Girls. Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art. New York: Penguin Books, 1998. Print.
- The Guerilla Girls. (2005). “Do Women have to be Naked to get into the Met Museum?” Digital Print. Acadia University Art Gallery, Permanent Collection. Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
- (n.d.) Home. Retrieved from http://www.guerrillagirls.com/#open