The Guerrilla Girls have been a New York-based feminist collective since 1985. They
focus on diversifying art world representations and opportunities for all female, queer, and
women of color artists through their artistic protests. The Guerrilla Girls started to make some noise in 1985 when only 13 out of 169 pieces in the Metropolitan Museum of Art were made by female artists. They wear masks not only to protect their anonymity but also, in a bizarre turn of events, to be taken more seriously. Somewhere along the way they figured out that the guerrilla masks were functioning to erase their femininity in public settings, appearing more masculine. What this meant was that when their femaleness was erased, many people were more likely to listen to what they were saying—which is validation enough for the importance of the work they’re doing.
In an interview with Interview Magazine, one of the Guerrilla Girls commented, “We discovered that the art world takes feminists more seriously when they use humor and wear a gorilla disguise. Pathetic! We think of it as our masculinity.” When the interviewer proceeded to ask if the Guerrilla Girls were done yet because it seemed as though we’ve come along way since 1985, she responded, “In 2011, we did our latest recount. We were sure things had improved, but surprise! Only 4% of the artists in the Modern and Contemporary sections were women, but 76% of the nudes were female. Fewer women artists, more naked males. Is this progress? Guess we can’t put our masks away yet.”
The Guerrilla Girls continue to be an inspiration for activists and movements that have come after them. Their approach, which uses humor, facts, and visuals like large scale billboards and posters, are tactics that many movements can emulate. For instance, the Occupy Movement’s use of Guy Fawkes masks as well as their peaceful and artistic protests share a lot of similarities with the Guerrilla Girls’ tactics.
These are tactics that we can all easily use as a model for our own causes. In regards to the Debt Fence I think there is a huge opportunity here, based on what the Guerrilla Girls have done. One of their most famous pieces is the billboard they put up displaying facts about the percentage of female artists and female nudes in the MET. Their use of bright signature colors (yellow and pink) in conjunction with black and white photographs and text is easily identifiable and resonates with a lot of people. It is both easy to read and impactful. I think there is a great opportunity here—proving we have the materials—to do billboard campaign around Umass in as big of a scale as we can. I also think there’s a lot to be said about the way the Guerrilla Girls work: they go off in the night and while people are sleeping they are working. They prepare their materials ahead of time and come morning, there are art installments so large and so graphically strong that they can’t be missed during anyone’s commute to work.
(Left: Guerrilla Girls Piece, on the right my own piece inspired by them.)
The locations they pick are busy and they are smart about where they can and can’t put art installations. They also write letters to people, such as Interview Magazine, that function as faux Thank You’s, with text like, “we know that you feel terrible about this and will rectify the situation immediately.” I believe CEPA does similar letters like this addressed to senators around student debt—but what if we did this (anonymously) to people on the board at Umass, and other people who occupy higher up positions at the University? What if we even sent these letters to alumni who donate large amounts to the University every year and suggested maybe that they pressure and push the school for more scholarships, grants, and, and just overall more affordable education? I’m not sure about previous Umass graduates, but I have a feeling that my graduating class, like the few before and after us, might be willing to do this as we face our own student debt.
Finally, their use of faux magazines and Mad Lib letter Fill-Ins that are easily addressed to whatever institution or person and calls them to correct the situation themselves, are also humorous and useful tactics we could use around campus in order to engage the student body. Even if we made the Mad-Lib a tear-out page in the magazine, this could engage the Umass Campus like never before. Many who read the Collegian, and well as those who don’t and might be more likely to pick up a magazine, could be reached by providing humorous as well as harder hitting articles about the economic squeeze, what’s wrong, what we can do about it, and how to join the movement.
POWERPOINT LINK HERE.