What do Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, Zora Neale Hurston, and Gertrude Stein all have in common? They are pseudonyms for the Guerilla Girls, a group of anonymous artists who fight social injustices.
Works produced by the Guerilla Girls range in theme and subject from gender based discrimination in the art world, to civil rights, to the Gulf War. When asked about their origins, “Kathe Kollwitz” cited a 1985 MoMA exhibit. The
exhibit, An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture, was allegedly
an “up-to-the minute summary” of contemporary art across the globe.Of the 169 artists highlighted, only
13 were women. Furthermore, all
of the artists were white and
of either European or American descent. These prejudices outraged many both in and outside of the art world, and united a group of progressive female artists and activists to form the Guerilla Girls.
The Guerilla Girls exposed museum records of these practices to the public through artistic mediums including posters, prints, and painted signs. They began on the streets of the SoHo neighborhood in New York City.
According to an interview posted on their website, one of their main goals was to expose the racist practices of certain art institutions. “We’ve made a lot of dealers, curators, critics and collectors responsible…the situation was pathetic. It had to change. And we were a part of that change.”
Their art consists of cleverly devised posters consisting of an image and a written message.The text of, You’re Seeing Less Than Half the Picture Without the Vision of Women Artists and Artists of Color actually forms a blank white region inside the composition which represents the failure of large art institutes to recognize, honor, and exhibit works of art produced by female artists, artists of color, and those of diverse ethnic backgrounds. No longer is art production confined to the target audience of the Declaration of Independence, wealthy, white, American men. As the Guerilla Girls argue in their Without the Vision, it is about time those feminist gains are respected and honored in the art world as well.
The second original, Do Women
Have to be Naked to Get Into the Met. Museum?, was a personal gift from the artists. This offset lithograph features the characteristic bright colors and raunchy subject matter the other print purposefully lacks.
The text is printed in black and pink across a yellow backdrop. Plastered across the city, this print caught the attention of everyone who walked by.
Ingres’ nineteenth century classical, reclining nude is herein shown with a gorilla mask over her face. The same masks the artists wear in public to conceal their identities, the image begs the question of the Guerillas’ relationship with this woman. By choosing a renowned nude they consciously acknowledge how female artists are continuously declined, yet artistic depictions of female nudes line almost every wall.
Taught to portray women as gentle, sexual, figures Ingres defined the very aspects of feminine artistic portrayal
which the Guerilla Girls counter in their
savvy and creative juxtapositions.
In the same interview “GGI,” a Guerilla Girls member said of the artists concealed identities: “we wanted the focus to be on the issues, not on our personalities, or our own work.”
Concerning the gorilla masks that hide identity of the artists, “Kathe Kollwitz” said, the masks give us the necessary “mask-ulinity” to be participants in the art world.