Who are The Guerrilla Girls? Anonymous activist group makes 'bold protest art' look cool
Styled like a simple handout placard, The Advantages of Being A Woman Artist, presented by the feminist-activist group The Guerrilla Girls from New York, has already become one of the most talked about pieces at the Biennale.
Essentially a version of a 1988 original, now with a Malayalam version (Penkalakrithinte Anukoolyangal), the cautionary work lists out a string of seeming advantages for women artists such as, ‘Working without the pressure of success’, ‘Not having to be in shows with men’ and ‘Not being stuck in a tenured teaching position’.
In a 90-minute session held in the first week of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale last December, two artists from the group, dressed in black and wearing their signature gorilla masks, reeled out historical instances of sexism and misuse of power that continue to affect the field of art.
The group created quite a buzz, with viewers enquiring back to know more about them; ‘Who are The Guerrilla Girls?’ is now a question met with equal reactions of awe and fascination.
According to a representative of the group, art museums have grown to profile histories of wealth, rather than art. Moneyed men who wield immense power decide the artists to be profiled at prestigious events and galleries, they claim. “That is why we have to still wear masks.”
The group insists, “They could be anyone. They are everywhere!” At their event at the Biennale, the girls made a dramatic entry, handing out bananas among the crowd.
“We wear gorilla masks in public and use facts, humour and outrageous visuals to expose gender and ethnic bias as well as corruption in politics, art, film, and pop culture. Our anonymity keeps the focus on the issues, and away from who we might be” — that’s their introduction, in a nutshell.
Days after their presentation in Kochi, over a telephone call from their New York headquarters, an anonymous spokesperson for the group explained how they remain extremely busy with gigs, talks and workshops across the US, and other parts of the world, lined up until August 2019.
Facts and fake fur
Founded in 1985, the group has done hundreds of projects — of posters, actions, books, videos and stickers — all over the world, apart from interventions and exhibitions at noted museums, often blasting the hosts on their own walls for their behaviour and discriminatory practices, like they did in a (2015) stealth projection on the façade of the Whitney Museum, addressing concerns of income inequality.
They also stand by the motto, ‘Reinventing the F word: feminism!’ To be certain, it is their brand of ‘bold protest art’ that gets The Guerrilla Girls most of their attention, which they turn into positive exchanges over pertinent social issues.
Among their other ongoing exhibitions, the girls are showing Half the Picture at Brooklyn Museum (until March 31), Resistance at Centrale for Contemporary Art, Brussels (until January 27) and a self-titled show at the Mjellby Art Museum, Halmstad, Sweden (until March 9). There’s also Guerrilla Girls: Rattling Cages Since 1985 at Bob Rauschenberg Gallery, Florida and another exhibition at the Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki in Auckland, New Zealand.
Their most promising outing yet is at the exhibition Guerrilla Girls — Feminism, Facts and Fake Fur, to be held at Västerås Art Museum, Sweden from March 23-August 18. The show’s poster art raises a provocative question, ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?’, going on to reinforce the points made in the flyer they presented in Kochi.
But the girls aren’t ever about to lose their sense of humour. The last two points on their symbolic flyer are as follows: ‘Not having to undergo the embarassment of being called a genius’, and ‘Getting your picture in the art magazines wearing a gorilla suit’.
So, what’s next? We ask. Pat comes the reply, “What’s next: More creative complaining! More interventions! More resistance!”
Works by The Guerrilla Girls are on display at the Store, at the Biennale, until March 29. For details about their other initiatives, visit their website or social media pages.