Guerrilla Girls: activism as a form of art
This feminist collective employed a series of actions that showed the subordinate role of women in the art world.
Women’s struggle for social equality has a long and tortuous history riddled with partial victories and, of course, many battles yet to be fought. One of the battles that have not been waged –– and without knowing well what victory would look like –– is the art world, where women continue to be regarded as a curiosity or an inspiring muse, but not as a creator in the full sense of the word.
Women who become recognized artists, curators or critics do so after years of dealing with a subordinate and exceptional treatment, by filling gender quotas or by working hard to fight prejudices that exist even within language itself: how many women are mentioned in catalogues, specialized magazines or homages next to the word genius, that divine status that only a handful of artists —strictly men— are granted?
Within this context, in 1985 the anonymous Guerrilla Girls movement was born, performing groundbreaking manifestations of their dissatisfaction. That same year the MoMA presented an international painting and sculpture exhibition exploring contemporary art, where they showed work by 169 artists but only 13 of those where women. The Guerrilla Girls’ first action consisted on standing outside the museum wearing gorilla masks and carrying signs that ironized the role women are forced to play in the art world.
In 1989 they set up a huge sign outside MoMA too: “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.” The sign presented the iconic figure of the “Great Odalisque” by Ingres using a monkey mask that at the time was part of the Guerrilla Girls’ uniform.
The idea of the monkey mask was taken from the Blonde Venus film, where Marlene Dietrich terrorised the audience by appearing disguised as a gorilla.
Since then the Guerrilla Girls movement has continued to fight demanding the recognition of women in the art world —a battle worthy of a true warrior.
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