When I was beginning to figure out what I was going to research for this project, I tried to narrow down my interests. I began to search for ‘activist art’ and found multitudes of propaganda and posters, but eventually I landed on the Guerrilla Girls, a group started by seven women artists in response to “An International Survey of Recent Paintings and Sculpture.” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1984.
This artistic exhibition was intended to be a compilation of the best contemporary works of art by the most talented artists of the time. However, out of 169 artists featured in the exhibit only 13 were women and there were no artists of color. To add insult to injury, the director of the exhibit, Kynaston McShine remarked, “anyone who’s work is not featured in this exhibit should rethink his career.” (Source) The seven founding members of the Guerrilla Girls women were outraged and attended a protest organized by the Women Artists Visibility Event. Protestor joined to picket outside of MoMa, but they were shocked to see that patrons entering the museum didn’t seem to care. “That was the AHA! Moment. There HAD to be a better way — a more contemporary, creative way — to break through people’s belief that museums always knew best and there wasn’t any discrimination in the art world,” they write on their website, guerrillagirls.com.
And so they began producing poster after poster, informing the world of the inequality and discrimination in the arts, a topic not many people had thought about before. Their first posters incited public discussion and interest in their group, so the girls had to figure out a way to hide their identities. The didn’t want their careers to be stigmatized by their activism, and they didn’t want people to pay attention to their individual work or personalities when they were trying to convey a message. They wanted to play with the idea of guerrilla warfare, showing up overnight and covering a city with their posters, and found gorilla masks to be the perfect disguise to wear when making public appearances or sneakily putting up posters. They also go by alias names of historic female artists when speaking publicly.
One of their most famous pieces boldly asks, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” followed by statistics of the ratio of male to female nudity on the Modern art Section. “Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art section are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.” The Guerrilla Girls went on a “weenie” count one Sunday, actually visiting the museum to find the facts themselves. In fact, for all of their posters they personally reported the statistics. They continue to update this poster with recent statistics.
The Guerrilla Girls have produced hundreds of exhibitions, actions, posters, videos, billboards, magazine spreads, books and letters since their beginning in 1984. They are credited with inciting discussion about gender and racial inequality and continue to raise awareness of these issues. You can find out more at their twitter or Facebook page.
All of these photos are copyrighted by the Guerrilla Girls and can be found at their website, guerrilla girls.com