The Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous female artists, writers and filmmakers who take the names of dead women artists as pseudonyms, brought their ideas of exposing sexism and racism in art, film, politics and culture at large to the College during their presentation in honor of Women’s History Month.
Artists assuming the names “Frida Kahlo” and “Rosalind Franklin” appeared in their trademark gorilla masks to inform students about the work their organization has done.
“We’re doing this to tell a story and we encourage you to use our work as a model to fight the injustices you see in the world,” Kahlo said.
Ellen Friedman, director of the women’s and gender studies program, had been trying to get the Guerrilla Girls to appear at the College for years.
“I’ve known about them since they first started, I’ve even included them in a book I published and some scholarly articles. I’ve always been impressed with their inventive protest, humor and relentlessness,” Friedman said.
According to “Kahlo,” the Guerrilla Girls use humor to urge social change.
“We would like the establishments to laugh at themselves while we are laughing at them and then change things that are wrong,” she said.
During the presentation, “Kahlo” and “Franklin” explained how the Guerrilla Girls came into existence. The group formed in 1985 after the opening of an art exhibition entitled “An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition featured 169 of the most significant contemporary pieces in the world, but included only 13 women artists.
“We decided we needed new techniques and ideas to expose sexism and racism in the art world,” Kahlo said.
The Guerrilla Girls’ first posters incriminated male artists who allowed their work to be shown in galleries that included no more than 10 percent of women artists or none at all.
Since then, they have produced everything from stickers to books exposing sexism and racism in culture at large, especially in the arts.
The Girls also produce merchandise for their causes, such as a poster entitled, “The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist,” which includes the statement, “Having the opportunity to choose between a career and womanhood.”
The group has come to call themselves the “conscience of the art world,” and compares themselves to other anonymous do-gooders such as Robin Hood and Batman.
In 1989, the Girls were asked to design a billboard for New York’s Public Art Fund (PAF). In order to do research for their poster, they went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to conduct a “weenie count” – a comparison of the number of nude men and women found in the artworks.
“Less than five percent of artists in the Modern Art section were women, but 85 percent of all nudes were female,” Kahlo said.
The Girls decided to use that statistic and base their ad on Ingre’s “Odalisque,” a famous nude. The PAF rejected the idea, but the Guerilla Girls nevertheless rented space on New York City buses and ran the ads themselves with the following headline: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”
For the past few years, the Guerrilla Girls have caused controversy in Hollywood by posting billboards exposing the sexism and racism of the Oscars. In 2002, their billboard presented the “Anatomically Correct Oscar.” The billboard featured a picture of an Oscar that was, “white and male, just like the guys who win,” in protest that a Best Director award has never gone to a woman and that only three percent of the Actor and Actress awards have gone to people of color.
This year, the Guerrilla Girls put up a billboard entitled, “Trent L’Ottscar,” with the following statement on it: “Even the U.S. Senate is more progressive than Hollywood. Female Senators: 14 percent, Female Film Directors: four percent.”
Friedman believes that thanks to activism like that of the Guerrilla Girls, progress has been made in mitigating gender and race problems.
“I am convinced that because of feminist activism such as theirs, many more artists are presented in museums and galleries and in other social arenas,” Friedman said.