On a chilly October night, two women dressed in black, donning gorilla masks, walked down the aisles of Jeanne d’Arc Auditorium with bananas in their hands and feminism on their minds. Who is this mysterious group of masked women who wish to be anonymous while ridding the world of patriarchy? They are the Guerrilla Girls (GG).
The GG’s promotive masks circulated around campus for several weeks and on the back of the gorilla masks read this description: “The Guerrilla Girls use media and activism to bring sexism, racism, classism and other discriminatory practices and mindsets to the attention of the general public. This group was founded in 1985 to challenge the status of women, and particularly women of color, in the art world in New York City.”
“The GG are a social justice conscience of the art world and beyond, who advocate for real diversity not just tokenism,” said Cormac Fitzgerald, a senior majoring in art history and studio arts at St. Kate’s, who is also the GG’s advocate for St. Kate’s and their citywide project (Guerrilla Girl Takeover, mentioned at the end of article) that is coming up in February and March in Minneapolis.
When they entered famous museums in NYC, they saw many paintings of naked people, 85 percent of the naked bodies were that of women, painted by men. They also wanted to call out awards for artistry, usually awarded to white males in live theater performances, Hollywood, the music industry, and art world. In 1995 they decided to do something that was not done before in order to provoke a response, they went through the streets of NYC putting up posters to call attention to the sexist art world.
“The Guerrilla Girls are a big deal; they have been profiled in the New York Times and other artistic journals, and continue to be relevant today, thirty years after their founding, because they are critical of themselves and the institutions that they are critiquing. They hold the field of art accountable because it is assessable and translatable,” said Fitzgerald.
The two women that came to St. Kate’s on Monday, Oct. 5 were the original founders of the group, and go by the names Frida Kahlo (Mexican artist known for her self portraits) and Käthe Kollwitz (German painter, printmaker, and sculptor). They not only continue to crusade for the art world but for more female inclusion in politics, for the end of domestic violence, for equal pay for equal work, and for educating the world about feminism, because no one can tell a story of culture if voices are missing.
“Start where brilliance lies (for the GG’s it was art), then focus your attention on systemic issues that deal with representation of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, and economic injustice,” Fitzgerald said.
For those wondering why the gorilla masks are so important to the movement, Fitzgerald has an answer.
“They only wear the masks when they are operating as the Guerrilla Girls, originally because their crusade would have destroyed their careers. They also did it so the media would not jump at the chance to pick apart their personal lives and take away the attention from their actual cause. I think it almost makes them like superheroes,” said Fitzgerald.
What is Fitzgerald’s advice for women in the art field?
Fitzgerald’s response was, “Do not take things at face value. If there is no space or outlet for what you want to change, stay informed, stay loud, and hold yourself accountable.”
What’s coming up in the Guerilla Girls “Take Over”?
The Guerrilla Girls will be “taking over” the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) and the Walker Art Center in conjunction with Hennepin Theater Trust and other galleries, installing informational asides in their galleries, exhibiting some of their work from their permanent collection, as well as showcasing their newly commissioned pieces specifically for the city, at the end of February and the beginning of March.
There are plenty of opportunities to get involved with this collaboration. You can learn more at ggtakeover.com.
To close, the GG founders offered eight ways that you can live like a Guerrilla Girl:
1) Be a loser. If you do not win, it does not mean that you lost.
2) Be crazy. Get someone to laugh that disagrees with you. It opens up them up to you and your cause a little more.
3) Be anonymous. Working your whole life without getting any credit or recognition is a bummer but wearing a mask keeps issues at the forefront and keeps the focus away from the activists themselves.
4) Be an outsider.
5) Just do it again and again and again even if you fail.
6) Show museums tough love. Demand ethical results. Do not let white, male artists dominate the exhibits.
7) Complain, complain, complain. You will become a professional and creative complainer.
8) Use the “F” word. Feminism. It does not get the respect it deserves. “F” also stands for future.