Samek highlight: The Guerrilla Girls

Nicole Yeager, Contributing Writer

Masked Mysteries  

The Guerrilla Girls identify as an anonymous group of activist artists who utilize factual information and statistics, alongside humor and visual graphics to critique stereotypes and biases in various facets of culture. These facets include, but are not limited to, politics, arts, film and popular culture. The Guerrilla Girls wear the iconic black gorilla masks to attract more attention to the holistic issues they are highlighting rather than their individual identities and personalities. 

The group first formed in 1985 in response to the lack of female artists represented during the height of the contemporary art movement in the 20th century. Since then, the Guerrilla Girls have adopted fifty-five members, all dedicated to bringing various societal issues in the art world into the spotlight. The members themselves have represented cultural diversity in “age, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic class, and ethnic background,” as written on their website.


Their Fight

Some of the matters the Guerrilla Girls focus on and fight for are gender, race and economic equality, along with overall human rights. Their work has been featured in over ten cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Mexico City, Istanbul, London, Bilbao, Rotterdam and Shanghai. Ranging in artistic medium — including posters, videos and stickers — the Guerrilla Girls’ works all manifest specific aesthetics representative of the cause being highlighted. Furthermore, the artistic activists also perform at colleges, universities, museums and other art organizations around the world to present and engage the audience in their exhibits and cause.

While their central channel remains the art world, they have expanded their reach to become more vocal about a greater extent of issues and politics, using other forms of media to do so. Specifically, they have addressed the salary gap of artists, misrepresentation of work by artists of color, sexualization of women in media and campaigns of controversial politicians. Over the years, they have remained enlightened on relevant and current issues, and have maintained a progressive mindset. 


Stylistic Choices

The Guerrilla Girls’ artwork employs a very unique style that mirrors their purpose and mission. These artistic activists utilize bright colors, expressive images, bold fonts, and provocative messages, “since their works are supposed to be seen on the street and need to catch people’s attention,” Julia Carita ’20 said. Additionally, the Guerrilla Girls incorporate many facts and statistics into their pieces, which often serve as the focal point of the artwork.

Emma Stone ’22 believes that “the simplicity of their work, featuring just a few impactful words or images, is really effective, especially to attract an audience of ordinary people who may not be very aware or educated on the causes otherwise.”


Samek Gallery Exhibit

The University’s Samek Art Museum Campus Gallery, located on the top floor of the Elaine Langone Center (ELC), features an exhibit of the Guerrilla Girls’ work. Titled “The Art of Behaving Badly,” the exhibit showcases poster and video pieces, which expand on their previous collections and promote their iconic stylism through various elements.

Reflecting on the Guerrilla Girls’ work in Samek Art Museum, Carita said, “[The exhibit is] like a sampling of the Guerrilla Girls through their history, so you will definitely get a sense of their themes when you walk through.”

Melissa Madden ’22, a student who attended the exhibit, agreed with artistic themes being easily visible. “Their work is very provocative and they like it that way,” Madden said. “They are always down to make a statement no matter how uncomfortable it is for the viewer. They want people to feel angry and act based on those emotions.”

Upon walking into the gallery, two walls feature messages from the Guerrilla Girls: one explains who they are and another speaks directly, and sarcastically, to the gallery about its artistic and cultural offenses. In the room to the left of the entrance, there is a video projected onto a wall that offers an overview of the Guerrilla Girls’ other exhibits and shows the impact the artistic activists have on the public.

A wall of black and white posters shares statistics and information about women artists in terms of their misrepresentation in museum galleries and unequal pay. Some of the Guerrilla Girls’ other works target sexualization of women in media – specifically in paintings and music videos – publicized anti-feminist quotes from various celebrities and satirical banners about discrimination.

Matilda Melkonian ’22 “loved [the exhibit’s] use of satire and pop culture references to convey their messages because it made the art and their causes more relatable.”


The Message Behind the Masks 

“I think it’s important for [the University’s] students to be aware of the problems going on in the art world, since it is a field whose discrimination does not get much much attention,” Carita said on the value of the Guerrilla Girls visiting campus. “But I also think it’s important for [the University] students to see how big of an impact we can make by speaking up about issues that we care about.”

At the University’s Samek Art Museum, the Guerrilla Girls’ exhibit is all about “behaving badly” and getting the public’s attention in order to provoke change for societal and cultural injustices. All art is supposed to make a statement, and the works of the Guerrilla Girls have a very powerful way of commenting on prevalent issues, as each of their pieces directly confronts an issue in the art world. Their goal is to increase awareness and activate change in the industry.

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