The Guerrilla Girls are an anonymous collective of feminist artists. The members of this feminist collective aim to bring attention and visibility to women artists. Through their art projects, posters, books, workshops, and public talks, they fight against discrimination and want to bring out women artists, black artists, and artists of different ethnicities from the margins. They use pseudonyms of famous female artists and gorilla masks to bring attention to discrimination and inequality in the art world. They are well known for using data and statistics to highlight problems of discrimination and inequality in the arts.
Uncovering the Met’s Naked Truth: The Guerrilla Girls
One of the concerns the Guerrilla Girls address in their work is how the art industry has traditionally viewed and sexualized women and their bodies. Their work is related to activism and the feminist movement. The Guerrilla Girls’ piece called Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? was produced in 1989. The Public Art Fund in New York City commissioned it as a billboard. The idea was to review the artworks on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then, compare how many artworks were made by women artists and how many featured depictions of nude women. The Public Art Fund argued that the poster lacked clarity, so they rejected it. But, the Guerrilla Girls displayed the artwork on New York City’s buses despite that.
On the left, we see an appropriation of the nude woman seen in the famous work La Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. The woman is lying in bed, her body twisted, and only her back visible to the viewers. Her head is slightly turned to the right as if to take a peek at the viewers. But in the Guerrilla Girls version of this work, we see a head of a gorilla that alludes to the masks of Guerrilla Girls. The woman’s body is pictured in black and white, whereas the bed sheets and the fan she holds with her right hand are purple.
The top of the poster, as well as the right side, includes the following text: Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? And on the right side, there are statistics stating that less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Section in the Metropolitan Museum of Art are women, but 85% of the nudes are female. The combination of this text with the reinterpretation of a well-known painting and its display in public spaces all show a departure from traditional ways of displaying artworks. The Guerrilla Girls used humor and their signature gorilla masks to draw attention to serious issues.
The Rise of Feminist Perspective in Visual Arts
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In the United States, the perspective of feminist activists in visual arts first appeared around the 1970s. The feminist perspectives developed parallel with postmodernism in the Western hemisphere. In a broad sense, feminists argued that although theories in philosophy seemed comprehensive and neutral, gender colored all its conceptual foundations. Gender, they argued, influenced the creation of ideas about artists, art, and aesthetic values. In visual arts, feminists critiqued the concept of fine art, made solely for aesthetic enjoyment.
Moreover, fine art was also considered a gendered concept since the fine part designated artworks predominantly made by male artists. It also marked the distinction between art and craft. Since women mainly made domestic objects considered craft, they were, therefore, not fine art. Another reason for this distinction is the public presence of these creative objects. It was seen as usual for men to display their artwork in public for a long time, but for women, the same was considered unfeminine and improper. Feminist artists, thus, wanted to create new narratives to make art more inclusive. They critiqued art institutions, publishers, and collectors because of their sexist and racist approaches to displaying and collecting artworks.
Feminist artists also critiqued different genres connected to specific mediums, for example, the nude genre and oil paintings. Most feminist artists made installations, performances, posters, photographs, and designs as opposed to painting and sculpture, which are considered traditional mediums of fine arts.
Another motif present in the Guerrilla Girls’ work is the use of statistics through which they demonstrate how women are underrepresented and objectified in the art world. Their use of statistics, satire, and gorilla masks has drawn attention to the art world’s issues of representation, sexuality, and discrimination. According to the collective, only 4% of solo exhibitions at New York’s foremost contemporary art galleries in 1984 were organized by women, while the number of women represented by galleries was significantly smaller. They also pointed out that women made up only a very small percentage of the artists featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection.
In addition to these facts, the Guerrilla Girls have emphasized the sexualization of women’s bodies in art history. The Guerrilla Girls have contributed to a more inclusive and equitable art industry by utilizing comedy to address serious themes. They have also inspired others to join the struggle for representation and equality.
It is also worth noting that while the Guerrilla Girls’ messages focus on the depiction and treatment of women in art, they are not restricted to the art sector only. Their work and data also draw attention to the greater society and culture in which we live, showing how women are underrepresented and sexualized in many areas of life.
Unmasking Injustice: The Anonymous Advocacy of the Guerrilla Girls
We don’t know who the Guerrilla Girls are, but the pseudonyms feature the names of famous women like Frida Kahlo, Käthe Kollwitz, and Gertrude Stein. By using aliases, they also celebrate the contributions made by historically overlooked women artists. The Guerrilla Girls remain active today. They use their anonymity to draw attention to issues of diversity and representation in the art industry and advocate for better representation of women and underrepresented groups in galleries, museums, and exhibitions. This feminist collective is a good example of how anyone can use anonymity and still fight for social change.
The group is well known for disguising their identities by wearing gorilla masks in order to draw attention to their message rather than themselves. The Guerrilla Girls’ use of anonymity also originates from the feminist theory that women’s voices have traditionally been ignored and muted. They fight to expose and resist these oppressive structures by concealing their identities.
Their anonymity also enables them to criticize organizations and people without worrying about repercussions. They can also avoid being disregarded or stereotyped because of their gender, color, or looks. They have kept the focus on the issues they address by using facts and numbers to back up their arguments. They also use their anonymity to underline the fact that the issues they are addressing do not relate to specific individuals but rather oppressive structures that impact a lot of people. The collective’s use of data, statistics, and humor contributed to the feminist movement in art. Their work has been influential in making the art industry more inclusive and equitable.