In May of 1985 something curious happened in New York City: posters began popping up. Not just any posters, posters created by a group which called itself the Guerrilla Girls. Now, thirty years later the Guerrilla Girls are still going strong, spreading their message of equality in the arts. An exhibition will be up at the Abrons Art Center in New York for the first two weeks of May 2015.
This group is made up of feminist activists who wear Gorilla masks and take on the names of dead women artists. They have been working tirelessly to level the playing field for women artists and artists of color. The group has been striking out at Museums and other cultural organizations for thirty years. These organizations are often tightly controlled by what their major donors and prominent collectors want and often times forget about the cultural integrity of their collections and what they mean to their public. The Guerrilla Girls’ work is spread all over the world and asks the tough questions like, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”
The Guerrilla Girls are giving the hard statistical truth about the representation of women artists and artists of color in Museum collections today. According to a poster they ran in 2015, only five women artists were represented in one person shows in NYC Museums. That number has improved by four since 1985. FOUR. A dismal number if we consider the amount of talented of women throughout art history.
Their work does not always live within the realm of art. The Guerrilla Girls have featured works about abortion, rape, homelessness and other socio-political issues. They stand up for the equal rights of all: women, men, humans. They believe that, “the art that’s in the museums and galleries should tell the whole story of our culture, our real culture, not just the white male part.”
Their message of equality for women and people of color speaks to all generations. They use humor and popular culture to spread their message. They protest in Gorilla masks which hide their true identities, hoping to keep the focus on their message and not their personal identity while still providing a bit of their trademark wit. The Gorilla masks came about when an original member misspelled Guerrilla in an early meeting. They state that they have “…been Guerillas before we were Gorillas.”.
The next time you stop at a Museum or Art Gallery, ask yourself these questions: Are women and artists of color fairly represented here? Why or why not? Ask the museums, leave comment cards, inquire on their social media accounts. We all have the ability to be Guerrilla Girls and stand up for what is right. Fair representation of women and minorities in contemporary art collections is one of those places which still need improvement. Let’s celebrate the thirty years of work the Guerrilla Girls have put in and keep pushing forward!
For more information and to read the full Guerrilla Girls interview and FAQ’s, stop by their website and show these Guerrillas some love!