Now more than ever is activism needed. Sex, activism and art have a beautiful relationship. They fight for what is right in a provocative way and it gets the job done.
Guerrilla Girls are no exception to the rule. An anonymous female feminist group of artists dedicated to fighting sexism and racism in the world of art. Originally formed in New York City in 1985, their mission was to bring gender and racial inequality in art to light. Their expression is presented through posters, books, billboards and appearances in public. To remain safe and anonymous, the women chose to wear don gorilla masks and used pseudonyms which refer to deceased female artists. Not only that, they wish to remain anonymous to let their work and the cause that they fight for to speak, not their personal lives or appearances.
In 1985, spring, seven women launched the Guerilla Girls in response to the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition ‘An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture’ which presented the harsh facts that only 13 women appeared out of the 165 artists included. The number of coloured artists was even smaller and none were women. The protests started with little success with wheat-pasted posters in only small neighbours. Shortly after, the group extended their focus to explore racism in the world of art too. They began to explore the world of art outside of New York too, addressing sexism and racism internationally and nationally whilst also expanding their focus to film culture too. Studying pop culture and politics, placing ‘tokenism’ at the centre of their concern.
The group conducted ‘weenie counts’, counting artworks’ male to female ratio with less than 5 percent of Modern Art Department art work being from female artists whilst 85 percent was nudes of women.
Why Guerilla not Gorilla Girls? The group commented that they were Guerillas before they were Gorillas, they wished to make their actions public and needed a disguise. A tale which has continued to be used throughout many of their interviews is that a girl who couldn’t spell made the mistake and it stuck. They believed that their masks gave them ‘mask-ulinity’, empowered them.
The Guerilla Girl’s first ever colour poster remains the most iconic of them all. It states, ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?’ inspired after their ‘weenie count’. It depicts one of the most famous female nudes in history wearing a gorilla head, it told the world who these women were and what they were fighting for. In 1990, the Guerilla Girls designed a billboard which featured Mona Lisa. They infiltrated the bathrooms of Guggenheim Soho to place stickers on female inequality on the walls. They wanted to leave a mark, something that would be hard to remove easily.
As explored before, the Guerilla Girls wanted to take out film, politics and society too. During the Sundance Film Festival, the girls distributed stickers to the crowds. Since 2002, the girls have designed and installed billboards addressing white male dominance in the film industry during the Oscars. The Guerilla Girls also criticized political figures such as George Bush, Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann, addressing events such as the 1992 Presidental election, reproductive rights, gay and lesbain rights and the LA riots.
These women took the world of art by the balls… literally and said, ‘give women a chance because we can do better.’ Art, more now than ever, is the voice we need and if we do not give everyone a space for that expression, change will never come. Guerilla Girls reinvented the F word: feminism and made sure the world of art knew about it.