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Guerrilla Girls

1985 | New York, United States
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Guerrilla Girls — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Guerrilla Girls, Benvenuti alla Biennale Femminista, 2005, © Guerrilla Girls

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— Guerrilla Girls

A collective of feminist visual artists active since 1985.

The Guerrilla Girls appeared on the contemporary art scene in 1985. Scandalized by the feeble presence of female artists (less than 8%) at An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture, an exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, these female visual artists formed a group to deplore the sexism and racism at work in art institutions. Their motto is “Reinventing the F word: feminism!” Calling themselves the “conscience of the art world” and using humour and irony, they also deprecate the obstacles faced by women artists and the tiny proportion of women artists’ works seen in museum collections. One of the best-known actions was probably the poster they created in 1989 in which Ingres’s Grande Odalisque is shown with her head replaced by a roaring gorilla mask beside the question “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the modern art sections are women but 85% of the nudes are female”. Lacking the means to post them in advertising spaces, the Guerrilla Girls stick their posters on buses and walls in New York.

This group of militants is composed of anonymous women creators who work in all disciplines. Wearing gorilla masks when they appear in public, they adopt the names of dead women artists recognized by art historians: Käthe Kollwitz, Frida Kahlo, Claude Cahun, Diane Arbus. They are everywhere among us and present themselves as the masked avengers of the art world, on the same model as Batman, Robin Hood or Wonder Woman. The mystery surrounding their identity and pseudonym attracts attention: nobody knows where they come from, how many they are or where they will strike next. Their actions are part of the history of feminist art, inspired by the works of Nancy Spero, Valie Export, Martha Rosler and Yoko Ono, and the theoretical arguments of Linda Nochlin, who in 1971 asked the question “Why have there been no great women artists?” But the Guerrilla Girls prefer to restate the question as “Why haven’t more women been considered great artists in the history of Western art?” (1998). As Géraldine Gourbe has remarked, their strategy is less about considering the conditions of the production and visibility of a work of art than demanding equal visibility and happily harping on the feeling of guilt (2009). In 1986 the Guerrilla Girls sent many American collectors a message saying, “Dear art collector, It has come to our attention that your collection, like most, does not contain enough art by women. We know that you feel terrible about this and will rectify the situation immediately. All our love, Guerrilla Girls”.

Among their modes of expression (handouts, meetings, performances, videos, books), the one that they make most use of, perhaps inspired by Barbara Kruger, is large posters that they stick on advertising hoardings. Aware of the links between gender, race and class, they have broadened their action to defend minorities who are not well represented in art institutions, like LGBT and black artists, as well as fighting for the legalization of abortion, women’s rights, and against the Gulf War. Whatever their target, their actions always incorporate dark humour, mockery, irony and the re-use of images. However, the fact that their representation of women combatants is ambiguous, being sexy, glamorous and angry all at the same time, is disputed by some feminists, who see this as a way to perpetuate the stereotype of women (Cottingham, 2000). It was only in 2005 that they were invited to enter the very institutions that they criticize, when they were asked to attend the Venice Biennale directed, for the first time, by two women: Rosa Martínez and María de Corral. The Guerrilla Girls showed six posters, two of which brazenly denounced the sexism of the event. In 2010 they were awarded the Courage Award for the Arts by artist Yoko Ono.

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Nathalie Ernoult

Translated from French by Timothy Stroud.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Guerrilla Girls — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Guerrilla Girls, Where Are The Women Artists of Venice, project for the Venice Biennale, 2005, print on paper, 60.9 × 45.7 cm, © Guerrilla Girls

Guerrilla Girls — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Guerrilla Girls, Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum?, 1989, screenprint on paper, 28 × 71 cm, © Guerrilla Girls

Guerrilla Girls — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Guerrilla Girls, Sorry, Sweetie, Way To Go, Dude!, 1994, print on paper, each print: 27.9 × 21.6 cm, © Guerrilla Girls

Guerrilla Girls — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Guerrilla Girls, The Future For Turkish Women Artists, 2006, digital print on paper, 37.6 × 58.4 cm, © Guerrilla Girls

Guerrilla Girls — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Guerrilla Girls, Benvenuti alla Biennale Femminista, 2005, © Guerrilla Girls

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