Activists or Artists?

The Guerrilla Girls blur the line between art and politics

Unlike many artists who want people to recognize their names, the Guerrilla Girls hide their identities. The women in this artist collective remain anonymous by wearing gorilla masks. They also refer to themselves by the names of famous women artists like Frida Kahlo and Käthe Kollwitz. The Guerrilla Girls create posters and stage demonstrations to address inequality in the art world. 

In April 1985, the Guerrilla Girls papered the streets of New York City with their first poster. On it, they accused curators at the Museum of Modern Art of favoring male artists. They pointed out that the museum included 165 artists in a major exhibition that year. Only 13 of them were women. 

The Guerrilla Girls’ posters often look like public service announcements or advertisements. The Guerrilla Girls use bold type and incorporate humor and data to make a statement. “We’re trying to change people’s minds by using facts that they maybe won’t have seen and presenting them in an interesting way,” explains the Guerrilla Girl who calls herself Käthe Kollwitz. 

More than 30 years later, the group’s core message is still about inequality in the arts. They created the poster above in 2015, demonstrating that women are still under-represented in big museum shows. But something has changed since 1985: Today, the Guerrilla Girls’ posters hang in the museums that they criticize.

Many critics say that by allowing museums to show their work, the Guerrilla Girls have sold out. Others argue that if curators display the Guerrilla Girls’ posters in museums, their work itself has become art. Even members of the collective aren’t sure if they’re producing art. “We would always talk about whether what we were doing was politics or art,” explains Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo. “We could never agree on it.” 

What do you think? Are the Guerrilla Girls artists, activists, or both?

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