The Guerrilla Girls

Fighting discrimination with facts, humor, and fake fur since 1985

| September 2004

From their formation in 1985, the Guerrilla Girls weren't like any other feminists in America. They have managed to blend the seriousness of a manifesto-driven art movement with the wit of a comedy troupe, and it has paid off. After nearly twenty years the group has made over 100 posters -- some of which have been added to the collection of the Museum of Modern Art -- and three books. They have spoken at colleges and institutions all over the world.

The gorilla masks are a play on the group's 'guerrilla' name and a way of keeping the focus off individual personalities while maintaining a sense of humor. Each member has chosen a nom de guerre -- usually the name of a deceased woman artist. The Guerrilla Girls use the masks and aliases for their public appearances, which include interviews, workshops, speaking engagements, and of course protests.

The Guerrilla Girls website is large and very well put-together. The best parts are the 'Hot Flashes' newsletter and the 'posters/actions' section. 'Hot Flashes' offers 'the dish on discrimination' on a quarterly basis. The information here ranges from reportage to the Guerrilla Girls' actions, and is a fascinating read -- well worth scrolling all the way through. Recent highlights include photos of the Guerrilla Girls' design for male and female librarian dolls (Betty the Bookworm and Merrion the Librarian), a refutation of Bush's claim that Afghani women are better off since the American invasion, and news that things are improving for the women of Morocco. The 'posters/actions' section shows a selection of the group's work over the years, and some of it can be downloaded.

A poster from 1989 asks, 'When racism and sexism are no longer fashionable, what will your art collection be worth?' It has a list of nearly 70 artists, and states that 'for the 17.7 million you just spent on a single Jasper Johns painting, you could have bought at least one work by all of these women and artists of color.' But not all of the Guerrilla Girls' actions are art-related.

The Guerrilla Girls make us laugh where other activists, feminist or otherwise, polarize us. This may be the secret to the group's longevity. The hilarious 'Schwarzenegger Shield' to protect women against the groping governor, the 'Women's Homeland Terror Alert System,' and the Girls' poster asking women to send estrogen pills to the White House show that humor is a very effective way to expose sexism to a fickle public.

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