Friday, April 18, 2008


Who are the Guerrilla Girls? Beats me. Actually…no one knows. Not even the Guerrilla Girls! Sure…someone might know one of them…or two of them, but not even the Guerrilla Girls know who all of them are. They are a group of radical feminist, subversive artists who established themselves in New York City in 1985. I saw them in Houston shortly thereafter. They now travel all over the world and while they do print a schedule of appearances, no one really knows where one might see them at any given time.

In their own words, “We’re feminist masked avengers in the tradition of anonymous do-gooders like Robin Hood, Wonder Woman and Batman. How do we expose sexism, racism and corruption in politics, art, film and pop culture? With facts, humor and outrageous visuals. We reveal the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, the and the downright unfair.”

The GG’s are best known for using guerrilla art to promote women and people of color in the arts. Their first work was putting up posters on the streets of New York decrying the gender and racial imbalance of artists represented in galleries and museums. Over the years they expanded their activism to examine Hollywood and the film industry, popular culture, gender stereotyping and corruption in the art world.

They now maintain a website, write books and create new posters and print projects and they travel the world giving presentations and showing small and large scale versions of their work.I just bought one of these:

They have recently created new projects about the cultural situation of specific places and events, like The Venice Biennale of Art, the status of women artists in Turkey and the representation of women artists in national museums on the Mall in Washington DC.

The Guerrilla Girls invented a unique combination of content, text, and snappy graphics that present feminist viewpoints in an outrageous and humorous manner.

The intention is that many viewers who initially disagree with GG positions get drawn in by their comic hook, think about the issues and often change their minds. Guerrilla Girls want to rehabilitate the “f” word (feminism) so that people who believe in the tenets of feminism (equal opportunity, an end to gender based discrimination, equal access to education, reproductive rights education and human rights for women everywhere) will also want to call themselves feminists.

One of their most famous posters was plastered across New York City buses in 1989. Its headline read, "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?"

They conducted a "weenie count" at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, counting naked males and naked females in the artworks as well as numbers of female artists in the collection. Less than 5% of the artists in the Met's modern art sections were women, but 85% of the nudes were female. Their design[1] was rejected by The Public Art Fund as a billboard so the Guerrilla girls ran it as an ad in the public buses in New York City. This poster has been reproduced in many, many textbooks on all subjects from geography to art history to women’s studies. The GGs went back in 2005 to do a recount and found that there are now fewer women artists shown at the Met, but more naked males in the artworks.

Members of the original group always wear gorilla masks when appearing as Guerrilla Girls and often, but not always, miniskirts and fishnet stockings, and will assume the names of deceased famous female artists. They proclaim that no one knows their identities, except for some of their mothers and/or partners. They never reveal the number of members of the group, implying that there are many Guerrilla Girls, or at least Guerrilla Girl supporters, all over the world. In 2001 two groups broke away and formed Guerrilla Girls Broadband, focused on internet and work issues, and Guerrilla Girls on Tour, a theatre troupe.

It has been said that Guerrilla Girls' work on behalf of marginalized female artists and artists of color within the art world serves the needs of only a handful of privileged artists, but the GG cause and work have been taken up by women’s groups everywhere from Brazil to India, Mexico, Europe, Cyprus, Bosnia and Serbia. Their books, The Guerrilla Girls Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers, The Guerrilla Girls Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes and The Guerrilla Girls Art Museum Activity Book are popular among political activists and have become textbooks in women’s studies, cultural studies and political science classes.

This is a blurb from the back of their newest book.

In their newest book, BITCHES, BIMBOS, AND BALLBREAKERS: The Guerrilla Girls’ Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes (Penguin paperback original; On Sale: Fall, 2003), the Girls focus their beady little eyes, and laser wit, on female stereotypes throughout the ages. Who isn’t familiar with such stereotypes as the Old Maid, the Trophy Wife, the Vamp, or the Prostitute with a Heart of Gold? In BITCHES, BIMBOS, AND BALLBREAKERS , the Girls take on the maze of stereotypes that follow women from the cradle to the grave. With subversive humor and great visuals they explore the history and significance of each stereotype as well as its evolution and the various manifestations each have taken on through the ages. They tag the Top Types, examine sexual slurs, and delve into the lives of real and fictional women who have become stereotypes—from Aunt Jemima and Tokyo Rose to June Cleaver. The Guerrilla Girls’ latest assault on injustice towards women will make people laugh, make them angry, and maybe, just maybe, make them change their minds. The wisecracking, but always clever style of the Guerrilla Girls makes BITCHES, BIMBOS, AND BALLBREAKERS both an entertaining and educational read that will appeal to readers of all genders and ages—provided they like a good laugh and a hearty dose of truth.

Click the following text to read the current Guerilla Girls newsletter.

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Stacy Alexander