A conversation with the Frida Kahlo & Kathe Kollwitz, the Guerrilla Girls
May 12 2021
May 12 2021
The Guerilla Girls share their take on sexism, racism, and corruption in the art world, and how they fight back with “creative complaining”
About our guestThe Guerrilla Girls are feminist activist artists who believe in intersectional feminism that fights discrimination and supports human rights for all people and all genders. They work to undermine the idea of a mainstream narrative by revealing the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, and the downright unfair through posters, actions, books, videos, stickers, and other art projects all over the world.
“What do you do when it comes out that an artist was a sexual abuser or a sexual predator”
“Three Ways to Write a Museum Wall Label”, 2018, Guerrilla Girls
“ It’s not just about success and failure, it’s about producing significant cultural information and experience ”
“Top Ten Token”, 1995, Guerrilla Girls
“ I think it is really important not to be demoralised because something doesn’t work, because if you just keep it up over time you’ll find that it will work”
“Racism Sexism”, 1989, Guerrilla Girls
It was a great honor to welcome two of the Guerrilla Girls, “Frida Kahlo” and “Käthe Kollwitz,” to this episode of the Raw and Radical Women in the Arts podcast.
The Guerilla Girls group is made up of anonymous feminist activist artists, who wear gorilla masks and adopt the names of famous women artists as pseudonyms so that public attention remains on the work they do, rather than on their identities.
Beginning of the Guerrilla Girls
The group formed in 1985, after a 1984 MOMA exhibition included just 13 women and 8 artists of color in their line up of 169 artists.
“We realised … we had to do something, and a bunch of women, not us, called a protest,” says Käthe. “It had no effect at all. And we understood at that moment that people thought the art world was a meritocracy … where the gatekeepers, the powers that be, always picked the best. So if you weren’t in a museum, you sucked, you weren’t any good, and that was our ‘ah ha’ moment. We realized there had to be a better way to tell people about this issue, a way that broke through their preconceived notions:
Since then, the Guerrilla Girls have engaged in what they call “creative complaining,” to raise awareness and catalyze change. Their new book, Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly, documents the hundreds of projects they have done over the last 35 years to expose sexism, racism, and corruptions.
“Our idea from the beginning was to create a new kind of political art using strategies of persuasion, like advertising,” says Käthe. “We do books, we do videos, we do huge billboards, but it’s all based on that kind of graphic execution and we started out doing street posters and bringing our work directly to people.”
Changing the conversation dynamics
Although racism and sexism still proliferate in the art world, people’s consciousness of these issues has begun to shift since the Guerrilla Girls began their work.
“There was a mainstream and it was very difficult for women and artists of color to break into, because it was sort of obsessed with white male experience … That doesn’t happen now,” Frida says. “However, the art world is still an Olympics of a few winners and many many losers, and that really is a function of capitalism.”
“We are rebels that want a new system”
A call for broader representation and assimilation
Overall, the Guerrilla Girls want to see a much broader assimilation of women artists, artists of color, and types of artwork into societal consciousness.
“There are so many artists whose work is very overtly political and really about exploration of culture, making change in culture,” Käthe says. “I think it’s really important to remember there are many different art worlds and … the one you’re thinking about joining, maybe that’s not the one to join. Maybe we really need new paradigms of how to be an artist.”
The Guerrilla Girls make it a point to support other artists who are engaging in the same work, offering workshops and interviews with other artists who want to begin their own protest groups and encourage artist activists “not to be demoralized because something doesn’t work, because if you just keep it up you’ll find that it does work.”
“I think it’s important to encourage artists and activists to do work like we do, and to not give up on trying to change a system that might exclude them or a system that they fear is unfair or unjust, because it’s very powerful to call out oppression,” Frida says.
Check out their new book
“Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly” It’s in stock!!!
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