Guerrilla Girls

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Guerrilla Girls
HeadquartersNew York City, United States
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Guerrilla Girls is an anonymous group of feminist, female artists devoted to fighting sexism and racism within the art world.[1] The group formed in New York City in 1985 with the mission of bringing gender and racial inequality into focus within the greater arts community.[2] The group employs culture jamming in the form of posters, books, billboards, and public appearances to expose discrimination and corruption. They also often use humor in their work to make their serious messages engaging.[3] They are known for their "guerilla" tactics, hence their name, such as hanging up posters or staging surprise exhibitions.[3] To remain anonymous, members don gorilla masks and use pseudonyms that refer to deceased female artists such as Frida Kahlo, Käthe Kollwitz, and Alice Neel. According to GG1, identities are concealed because issues matter more than individual identities, "Mainly, we wanted the focus to be on the issues, not on our personalities or our own work."[4]


During the height of the contemporary art movement in the 20th century, many distinguished galleries lacked appropriate representation of female artists and curators. These galleries were often privately funded by elites, predominately white males, meaning that museums are no longer documenting art, but power structures.[5] By the mid 1960s, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had a predominantly male board of directors. This correlates to the disparity of female artists on display while art depicting the female form was abundant. Then in 1985, a group was formed to bring light to these disparities in the art world. Membership has fluctuated over the years from a high of about 30 women to a handful of active members now[6]

In the spring of 1985, seven women launched the Guerrilla Girls in response to the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition "An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture" (1984), whose roster of 165 artists included only 13 women.[7] Inaugurating MoMA's newly renovated and expanded building, this exhibition claimed to survey that era's most important painters and sculptors from 17 countries.[8] The proportion of artists of color was even smaller, and none of them were women.[9]

Guerrilla Girls at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A comment by the show's curator, Kynaston McShine, further highlights that era's explicit art world gender bias: "Kynaston McShine gave interviews saying that any artist who wasn't in the show should rethink his career."[10] In reaction to the exhibition and McShine's overt bias, they protested in front of MoMA. Thus, the Guerrilla Girls were born.

When the protests yielded little success, the Guerrilla Girls wheat-pasted posters throughout downtown Manhattan, particularly in the SoHo and East Village neighborhoods.[11]

Soon after, the group expanded its focus to include racism in the art world, attracting artists of color. They also took on projects outside of New York, enabling them to address sexism and racism nationally and internationally. Though the art world has remained the group's main focus, the Guerrilla Girls' agenda has included sexism and racism in films, mass and popular culture, and politics. Tokenism also represents a major group concern.[11]

During its first years, the Guerrilla Girls conducted "weenie counts", such that members visited institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and counted artworks' male-to-female subject ratios. Data gathered from the Met's public collections in 1989 showed that women artists had produced less than 5% of the works in the Modern Art Department, while 85% of the nudes were female.[citation needed]

Early organizing was based around meetings, during which members evaluated statistical data gathered regarding gender inequality within the New York City's art scene. The Guerrilla Girls also worked closely with artists, encouraging them to speak to those within the community to bridge the gender gap where they perceived it.[12]

When asked about the masks, the girls answer "We were Guerrillas before we were Gorillas. From the beginning, the press wanted publicity photos. We needed a disguise. No one remembers, for sure, how we got our fur, but one story is that at an early meeting, an original girl, a bad speller, wrote 'Gorilla' instead of 'Guerrilla'. It was an enlightened mistake. It gave us our 'mask-ulinity'."[13] In an interview with the magazine Interview the Guerrilla Girls were quoted, "Anonymous free speech is protected by the Constitution. You'd be surprised what comes out of your mouth when you wear a mask."[14]

Since 1985, the Guerrilla Girls have worked for an increased awareness of sexism and greater accountability on the part of curators, art dealers, collectors, and critics.[15] The group is credited, above all, with sparking dialogue, and bringing national and international attention to issues of sexism and racism within the arts.


Many feminist artists in the 1970s dared to imagine that female artists could produce authentically and radically different art, undoing the prevailing visual paradigm. The pioneering feminist critic, Lucy Lippard curated an all-women exhibition in 1974, effectively protesting what most deemed a deeply flawed approach, that of merely assimilating women into the prevailing art system.[16] Shaped by the 1970s women's movement, the Guerrilla Girls resolved to devise new strategies. Most noticeably, they realized that 1970s-era tools such as pickets and marches proved ineffective, as evidenced by how easily MoMA could ignore 200 protestors from the Women's Caucus for Art. "We had to have a new image and a new kind of language to appeal to a younger generation of women", recalls one of the founding Guerrilla Girls, who goes by "Liubov Popova."[17] The Guerrilla Girls sought an alternative approach, one that would defeat views of the 1970s Feminist movements as man-hating, anti-maternal, strident, and humorless:[16] Versed in poststructuralist theories, they adopted 1970s initiatives, but with a different language and style. Earlier feminists tackled grim and unfunny issues such as sexual violence, inspiring the Guerrilla Girls to keep their spirits intact by approaching their work with wit and laughter, thus preventing a backlash.[16]

Work: actions, posters and billboards[edit]

Art world[edit]

French feminist group La Barbe (Beard) meets the Guerrilla Girls at the Palais de Tokyo (Paris, 2013)

Throughout their existence, the Guerrilla Girls have gained the most attention for their bold protest art.[18] The Guerrilla Girls' projects (mostly posters at first) express observations, concerns, and ideals regarding numerous social topics. Their art has always been fact-driven, and informed by the group's unique approach to data collection, such as "weenie counts." To be more inclusive and to make their posters more eye-catching, the Guerrilla Girls tend to pair facts with humorous images[19] – a form of word art.[20] Although the Guerrilla Girls gained fame for wheat-pasting provocative campaign posters around New York City, the group has also enjoyed public commissions and indoor exhibitions.

In addition to posting posters around downtown Manhattan, they passed out thousands of small handbills based on their designs at various events.[12] The first posters were mainly black and white fact sheets, highlighting inequalities between male and female artists with regard to a number of exhibitions, gallery representation, and pay. Their posters revealed how sexist the art world was in comparison to other industries and to national averages. For example, in 1985 they printed a poster showing that the salary gap in the art world between men and women was starker than the United States average, proclaiming "Women in America earn only 2/3 of what men do. Women artists earn only 1/3 of what men do." These early posters often targeted specific galleries and artists. Another 1985 poster listed the names of some of the most famous working artists, such as Bruce Nauman and Richard Serra. The poster asked "What do these artists have in common?" with the answer "They allow their work to be shown in galleries that show no more than 10% of women or none at all."

The group was also activists for equal representation of women in institutional art, and highlighted artist Louise Bourgeois in their "Advantages to Being a Women artist", poster in 1988 as one line read, "Knowing your career might not pick up till after you're 80."[21] Their pieces are also notable for their use of combative statements such as "When racism and sexism are no longer fashionable, what will your art collection be worth?"[11]

"Dearest Art Collector" (1986) is a 560x430 mm screen-print on paper. This is one of thirty posters published in a portfolio entitled "Guerrilla Girls Talk Back".[22] This print is unusual in the portfolio in that it takes the form of an enlarged handwritten letter on baby pink paper. The extremely rounded cursive script crowned with a frowning flower exudes femininity, symbolizing the biting sarcasm for which the Guerrilla Girls were known. The Guerrilla Girls sent this poster to well-known art collectors across the United States, pointing out how few works they owned by women artists. This send-up of femininity is aimed at the expectation that, even when presenting a serious complaint, women should do so in a socially acceptable 'nice' way. "We know that you feel terrible about this" appeals to the feelings of the recipient. This piece was a commentary on how hard it is for female artists, and what lengths they must go through in order to be recognized and taken seriously. Women are constantly expected to perform a certain way and this print is the embodiment of how tumultuous it is for women all around the world to be recognized in the eyes of men with power. The group later transcribed it into other languages and sent it to collectors outside the U.S. A practical joke with serious implications, this poster is now (somewhat ironically) a collector's item.

The posters were rude; they named names and they printed statistics (and almost always cited the source of those statistics at the bottom, making them difficult to dismiss). They embarrassed people. In other words, they worked.[23]

Grande Odalisque (1814) by Ingres

The Guerrilla Girls' first color poster, which remains the group's most iconic image, is the 1989 Metropolitan Museum poster, which used data from the group's first "weenie count". In response to the overwhelming number of female nudes counted in the modern art sections, the poster asks, sarcastically, "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?". Next to the text is an image of the Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres painting Grande Odalisque, one of the most famous female nudes in Western art history, with a gorilla head placed over the original face. A survey of other sections of the museum gives very different results. Art critic Christopher Allen states that more female artists and fewer nudes are in the 18th century section,[24] and Mary Beard writes in her 2018 book, Civilisations: How Do We Look, that it took centuries in Greek antiquity until Praxiteles created the first female nude, Aphrodite of Knidos.[25]

In 1990, the group designed a billboard featuring the Mona Lisa that was placed along the West Side Highway supported by the New York City Public Art Fund.[26] For one day, New York's MTA Bus Company also displayed bus advertisements with Met. Museum poster. Stickers also became a popular calling cards representative of the group.

The Guerrilla Girls infiltrated the bathrooms of the newly opened Guggenheim Museum SoHo, placing stickers regarding female inequality on the walls.[12] In 1998, Guerrilla Girls West protested at the San Jose Museum of Art, over low representation of women artists.[27]

In addition to researching and exposing sexism in the art world, the Guerrilla Girls have received commissions from numerous organizations and institutions, such as The Nation (2001),[28] Fundación Bilbao Arte (2002), Istanbul Modern (2006) and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (2007). They have also partnered with Amnesty International, contributing pieces to a show under the organization's "Protect the Human" initiative.[29]

They were interviewed for the film !Women Art Revolution.[30]

In 1987, the Guerrilla Girls published thirty posters in a portfolio entitled Guerrilla Girls Talk Back.[31] One specifically, We Sell White Bread,[32] was a poster made to gradually widen their focus, tackling issues of racial discrimination in the art world and also making more direct, politicized interventions.[33][32] In 1987, the image on this poster was first seen as peel-off stickers on gallery windows and doors in New York.[34] Its medium, screen print on paper, has the words "We Sell White Bread" and are stamped on a slice of white bread alongside a list of ingredients that includes the white male artists whose work is on display at the galleries.[33][32] According to the poster, the galleries favored white, male artists, noting that the gallery "contains less than the minimum daily requirement of white women and non-whites".[33][34]

Public commissions[edit]

Guerrilla Girls wear gorilla masks whenever making public appearances

In 2005, the group exhibited large-format posters Welcome to the Feminist Biennale at the Venice Biennale (the first in 110 years to be overseen by women), scrutinizing 101 years of Biennale history in terms of diversity. Where Are the Women Artists of Venice? explored the fact that most works owned by Venice's historical museums are kept in storage.[35][36][37]

Since 2005, the Guerrilla Girls have been invited to produce special projects for international institutions, sometimes for the very institutions, they have criticized. Offers that pose a dilemma are carefully considered, so as to avoid censure since one way to improve institutions is to criticize them from inside.[38]

Their 2006 poster The Future for Turkish Women Artists as Revealed by the Guerrilla Girls, commissioned by İstanbul Modern, demonstrated that the status of women artists in Turkey was better than in Europe.[citation needed] In 2007, The Washington Post published their "Horror on the National Mall!", a one-page newspaper spread attacking the absence of diversity among tax-payer supported museums on the Mall in Washington, DC.[39] During the 2007 ART-ATHINA, the Guerrilla Girls projected "Dear Art Collector" in Greek onto the entrance's façade. In 2015, they projected their "Dear Art Collector" animation onto a museum façade, taking on collectors who fail to pay employees a living wage.[40] To commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre, the University of Quebec commissioned their Troubler Le Repos (Disturbing The Peace) poster, whose texts addressed anti-women hate speech since Ancient Greece to Rush Limbaugh.

In 2009, they launched I'm not a feminist, but If I were this is what I'd complain about ... , an interactive graffiti wall that enables women who don't see themselves as feminists the means to target gender issues with the hope that active participation will broaden their perspectives.[41] In 2012, this traveled to Krakòw's Art Boom Festival.[42]

In 2011, Columbia College Chicago's Glass Curtain Gallery and Institute for Women and Gender in the Arts and Media commissioned the first Guerrilla Girls survey of Chicago museums. The resulting banner entitled Chicago Museums [Guerrilla Girls to Museums: Time for Gender Reassignment!] critiqued gender disparity in the contemporary art collections of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art.[43]

In 2012, an advertising truck towed Do women Have To Be Naked To Get into Boston Museums? around Boston.[44] Invited by Yoko Ono to participate in the 2013 Meltdown Festival, the Guerrilla Girls updated their 2003 Estrogen Bomb poster, which had premiered in The Village Voice in 2003.

During Winter 2016, they participated in "Twin City Takeover", art exhibitions and art projects organized by a consortium of local art organizations sited around Minneapolis and St. Paul.[45][46] [47][48][49]

In 1996 Guerrilla Girls came out with Planet Pussy in Monkey Business issue #4 in November 1996.[50] This was a work about feminism and was published by Sike Burmeister and Sabine Schmidt.[51]

Film world[edit]

Guerrilla Girls billboard in Los Angeles protesting white male dominance at the Oscars in 2002

To protest the dearth of female directors, the Guerrilla Girls distributed stickers during the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.[52] The Nation invited them to present Birth of Feminism,[28] which they updated and presented in 2007 as a banner outside Witte de With Center for Contemporary Arts. Since 2002, Guerrilla Girls Inc. have designed and installed billboards during the Oscars that address white male dominance in the film industry, such as: "Anatomically Correct Oscars", "Even the Senate is More Progressive than Hollywood", "The Birth of Feminism",[53] "Unchain the Women Directors".[54]

During the 2015 Reykjavík Arts Festival, the Guerrilla Girls displayed National Film Quiz, a billboard criticizing the fact that 87% of national funding for films goes to men, despite women playing an important part of Iceland's public and private sectors.[55] In light of 2016's #Oscarssowhite campaign, the Guerrilla Girls updated the above billboards, presenting them on downtown Minneapolis streets for "Twin City Takeover".[56]

Politics and social issues[edit]

Although the Guerrilla Girls' protest art directed at the art world remains their most well-known work, throughout their existence the group has periodically targeted politicians, specifically conservative Republicans. Those criticized have included George Bush, Newt Gingrich, and most recently Michele Bachmann. In 1991, the Artist and Homeless Collaborative invited them to work with homeless women to create posters in response to homelessness and the first Gulf War. Between 1992 and 1994, Guerrilla Girl posters addressed the 1992 presidential election, reproductive rights (done for the march on Washington in 1992),[clarification needed] gay and lesbian rights, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. During the 2012 election, they displayed their Even Michele Bachman believes. ... on a billboard adjacent to a football stadium to advertise her plan to: ban same-sex marriages, require voter Id checks, and spend money implementing statewide voter IDs.[57] Their 2013 posters discussed the Homeland Terror Alert system and Arnold Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial campaign.

In 2016, the Guerrilla Girls launched the "President Trump Announces New Commemorative Months" campaign in the form of stickers and posters, which they distributed during the Women's March on Washington in Los Angeles and New York City, as well as the J20 event at the Whitney Museum of Art[58] and the Fire Fink protest at MoMA.[59]

Work: publications and merchandise[edit]

To shed light on inequality in the art world, the Guerrilla Girls have published numerous books. In 1995, they published their first book, Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls, a compilation of 50 works plus a self-interview.[60][61] In 1998, they published The Guerrilla Girls Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, a consciousness-raising comic book that sold 82,000 copies, as it explores how art history's male domination constrained several female artists' careers.[62] In 2003, they published Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers, a down and dirty catalogue of "The Top Stereotypes from Cradle to Grave". Offering thumbnail histories for cultural clichés ranging from "Daddy's Girl", "the Girl Next Door", "the Bimbo/Dumb Blonde" to "the Bitch/Ballbreaker", each is given "trademark Guerrilla Girl treatment: pointed factoids and cool graphics".[63][64]

Their 2004 book The Guerrilla Girl's Museum Activity Book (reissued in 2012) parodies children's museum activity books. Meant to teach children how to both appreciate and critique museums, this book provides activities that reveal the problematic aspects of museum culture and major museum collections. In 2009, they produced a history of hysteria, The Hysterical Herstory Of Hysteria And How It Was Cured From Ancient Times Until Now.[65] MFC-Michèle Didier published it in 2016.


An important part of Guerrilla Girls' outreach since 1985 has been presentations and workshops at colleges, universities, art organizations, and sometimes at museums. The presentations, known as "gigs", attract hundreds and sometimes thousands of attendees. In the gig, they play music, videos, show slides and talk about the history of their work, how it has evolved. In the end, the GGs interact with audience members. New work is always included and gig material changes all the time. They have done hundreds of these events and have traveled to nearly every state as well as Europe, South America, and Australia.

In recognition of their work, the Guerrilla Girls have been invited to give talks at world-renowned museums, including a presentation at the MoMA's 2007 "Feminist Futures" Symposium. They have also been invited to speak at art schools and universities across the globe and gave a 2010 commencement speech at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. To mark the 30th anniversary of the Guerrilla Girls, Matadero Madrid hosted "Guerrilla Girls: 1985-2015", an exhibition featuring most of the collective's production accompanied by a series of events including a talk/performance by Guerrilla Girl members Frida Kahlo and Käthe Kollwitz.[66][67] The exhibition also showed the 1992 documentary "Guerrilla in Our Midst" by Amy Harrison.[68][69]

Three Guerrilla Girls appeared on the Stephen Colbert show on January 14, 2016.[70][71]


Early solo exhibitions included: "The Night the Palladium Apologized" (1985), Palladium (New York City); "Guerrilla Girls Review the Whitney" (1987), Clocktower PS1; and "Guerrilla Girls" (1995), Printed Matter, Inc.[72]

Career surveys include:

On the heels of "Not Ready to Make Nice" were:



Despite having routinely challenged art institutions to display more artists of color, both members and critics want the Guerrilla Girls to be more diverse. Their art was believed to be exclusive to white feminism and they addressed by creating a series of activist artworks addressing a range of issues that women faced.[77] "Zora Neale Hurston" recalls Guerrilla Girl membership as "mostly white" and largely mirroring the art world demographics that they critiqued.[78] Despite sporting gorilla masks to downplay personal identity, some members attribute Guerrilla Girl interests to the fact that de facto leaders "Frida Kahlo" and "Käthe Kollwitz" are both white.[16] ("Frida Kahlo" has also been criticized for her appropriation of a Latina artist's name.)[79] The artist believed in the overt artistic expression by correlating beauty and pain, along with the rise of modernism.[80] An art movement without generalization.

However, any precise information on the demographics of the Guerrilla Girls is impossible, for they have "staunchly, and problematically, resisted being surveyed as to the makeup of their own membership".[16]

Several Guerrilla Girls who are people of color have faced numerous challenges. Despite the Guerrilla Girls' stance against tokenism, some artists of color abandoned Guerrilla Girl membership due to tokenism, silencing, disrespect, and whitewashing.[16][78] As a woman of color, "Alma Thomas" describes having felt uncomfortable wearing the Guerrilla Girls' signature gorilla mask.[81] "Thomas" recalls little effort being devoted to understanding the challenges of artists of color. "Their whiteness was such that they ... didn't understand that blacks were being put in a completely separate world in the art world, that black male artists and black female artists are completely separated, completely segregated to this day."[78] Ultimately, this widespread antagonism led to many "artists of color [leaving] after a few meetings because they could sense the unspoken hierarchy in the group".[82]

Second-wave feminism and essentialism[edit]

Anonymous MCAD student protest against the Guerrilla Girls

Emerging at the tail end of the second-wave feminist movement, the Guerrilla Girls navigated the differences between established and emerging feminist theory during the 1980s. "Alma Thomas" describes this grey-area that the Guerrilla Girls occupied as "universalist feminism", bordering on essentialism.[81] Art historian Anna Chave considers the Guerrilla Girls' essentialism much more profound, leading the group to be "assailed by ... a rising generation of women wise in the ways of poststructuralist theory, for [their] putative naiveté and susceptibility to essentialism".[16] Essentialist views are most clearly exhibited in two Guerrilla Girl books:The Guerrilla Girls Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art (1998) and the controversial Estrogen Bomb (2003–13) campaign. Regarding the former, "Alma Thomas" worried that The Guerrilla Girls Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art "was so embedded in that second-wave feminist and even pre-second-wave essentialism" that it fulfilled some assumption that all women artists are feminist artists.[81]

Students at Minneapolis College of Art and Design criticized their Estrogen Bomb poster campaign, describing it as insensitive towards transgender people since it ties the female gender to estrogen, the same sort of essentialist link the Guerrilla Girls aim to critique.[83][84] Aside from essentialism, the Guerrilla Girls have also been critiqued for failing to integrate intersectionality into their work.[79]

Internal disputes[edit]

Leading up to a highly publicized 2003 lawsuit, there was increasing animosity toward "Frida Kahlo" and "Käthe Kollwitz". Despite founding members' initial intention to create a non-hierarchal, equitable power structure, there was an increasing sense that two people were making "the final decisions no matter what you said".[78] Several Guerrilla Girls felt that their second book, The Guerrilla Girls Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art,[85] primarily represented the views of "Kahlo" and "Kollwitz". Some even felt that "Kahlo" and "Kollwitz" completely controlled the book, despite their having selected material created collectively by all Guerrilla Girls. There was even suspicion that these two not only claimed all the credit but took all of the profits. Some members condemned the book as "undemocratic and ... against the spirit of the [Guerrilla] Girls".[81]

As the Guerilla Girls gained in popularity, tensions led to what the Girls later called the "banana split", as five members actually split from the collective. Soon after several members stepped aside to form Guerrilla Girls Broadband, "Kahlo" and "Kollwitz" moved to trademark the name "Guerrilla Girls, Inc." to distinguish their realm from those of Guerrilla Girls BroadBand and Guerrilla Girls On Tour! whose focus is discrimination in the theater world.[82] Even though their former colleague "Gertrude Stein" was in the on-tour group, "Kahlo" and "Kollwitz" charged them with copyright and trademark infringement and unjust enrichment. Many members of the group felt especially betrayed that "Kahlo" and "Kollwitz" had launched their lawsuit under their real names, Jerilea Zempel and Erika Rothenberg.[86]

This prompted negative reactions from both current and former Guerrilla Girls, who objected to "Kahlo" and "Kollwitz" claiming responsibility for having created the collective effort, as well as the flippancy with which they exchanged their anonymity for legal standing.[16]

Judge Louis L. Stanton, who handled the case, rejected the "bizarre" suggestion that defendants sporting gorilla masks be allowed to testify in his courtroom. He also stated that "Mundane court procedures for adjudicating legal rights and the ownership of property require direct and cross-examination of real persons with real addresses and attributes."[86]

In their 45-page complaint, "Kahlo" and "Kollwitz" described themselves as the group's "guiding forces", even though the Guerrilla Girls were "informally organized, [and] had no official hierarchy". Initially, they asked the court to stop Guerrilla Girls Broadband from calling themselves Guerrilla Girls and sought millions of dollars in damages. In 2006, they settled with the theatre group who agreed to go by Guerrilla Girls on Tour. As of 2013, three separate groups remained active, the GuerrillaGirlsBroadBand, Inc., Guerrilla Girls On Tour, Inc. (the Theatre Girls), and Guerrilla Girls, Inc. The Guerrilla Girls BroadBand focuses on the internet as its "natural habitat".[87]

Guerrilla Girls display at Mills College; Public Works: Artists' Interventions 1970s–Now

Selling out[edit]

Upon their 1985 debut, the Guerrilla Girls were "lauded by the very establishment they sought to undermine". They have since exhibited at Tate Modern, Venice Biennale, Centre Pompidou, and MoMA, which additionally grants them a broader audience for their concerns.[88] Since then, this relationship has only intensified, as the Guerrilla Girls presented their exhibitions in museums and even allowed their works to be collected by hegemonic institutions. Although some have questioned the efficacy, if not hypocrisy, of the group's working within the system that they originally denigrated, few would challenge their decision to let the Getty Research Institute house their archives.[79][failed verification][88]

Members and names[edit]

Two members of the Guerrilla Girls join a panel discussion at the Rochester Art Center in 2016 in Rochester, Minnesota

Membership in the New York City group is exclusive, by invitation only, based on relationships with current and past members, and one's involvement in the contemporary art world. A mentoring program was formed within the group, pairing a new member with an experienced Guerrilla Girl to bring them into the fold. Due to the lack of formality, the group is comfortable with individuals outside of their base claiming to be Guerrilla Girls; Guerrilla Girl 1 stated in a 2007 interview: "It can only enhance us by having people of power who have been given credit for being a Girl, even if they were never a Girl." Men are not allowed to become Guerrilla Girls but may support the group by assisting in promotional activities.[12]

Guerrilla Girls' names are pseudonyms generally based on dead female artists. Members go by names such as Käthe Kollwitz, Alma Thomas, Rosalba Carriera, Frida Kahlo, Alice Neel, Julia de Burgos, and Hannah Höch. Guerrilla Girls' "Carriera" is credited with the idea of using pseudonyms as a way to not forget female artists. Having read about Rosalba Carriera in a footnote of Letters on Cézanne by Rainer Maria Rilke, she decided to pay tribute to the little-known female artist with her name. This also helped to solve the problem of media interviews; the group was often interviewed by phone and would not give names, causing problems and confusion amongst the group and the media. Guerrilla Girl 1 joined in the late 1980s, taking on her name as a way to memorialize women in the art community who have fallen under the radar and did not make as notable as an impact as the names takes on by other members.[12] For some members like "Zora Neale Hurston", or Emma Amos, identities have only been made public posthumously.

Gorilla symbolism[edit]

The 1933 film King Kong was influential to the concept of a Guerilla Girl.

The idea to adopt the gorilla as the group's symbol stemmed from a spelling error. One of the first Guerrilla Girls accidentally spelled the group's name at a meeting as "gorilla".[15] Despite the fact that the idea of using a gorilla as a group symbol might have been accidental, the choice is nevertheless pertinent to the group's overall message in several key ways.

To begin with, the gorilla in popular culture and media is often associated with King Kong, or other images of trapped and tamed apes. In the 2010 SAIC Commencement, the comparison between institutionalized artists and tamed apes was explicitly made:

And last, but not least, be a great ape. In 1917, Franz Kafka wrote a short story titled "A Report to an Academy", in which an ape spoke about what it was like to be taken into captivity by a bunch of educated, intellectual types. The published story ends with the ape tamed and broken by the stultified academics. But in an earlier draft, Kafka tells a different story. The ape ends his report by instructing other apes NOT to allow themselves to be tamed. He says instead: break the bars of your cages, bite a hole through them, squeeze through an opening ... and ask yourself where do YOU want to go[89]

The gorilla is also typically associated with masculinity. The Met Museum poster is in part shocking because of its juxtaposition of the eroticized female odalisque body, and the large, snarling gorilla head. The addition of the head detracts from the male gaze and changes the way in which viewers are able to look at or understand the highly sexualized image. Further, the addition of the gorilla questions and modifies stereotypical notions of female beauty within Western art and popular culture, another stated goal of the Guerrilla Girls.

Guerrilla Girls, who wear the masks of big, hairy, powerful jungle creatures whose beauty is hardly conventional ... believe all animals, large and small, are beautiful in their own way.[90]

Though this goal has never been explicitly stated by the group, in the history of Western art, primates have often been associated with the visual arts, and with the figure of the artist. The idea of ars simia naturae ("art the ape of nature") maintains that the job of art is to "ape", or faithfully copy and represent nature. This was an idea first popularized by Renaissance thinker Giovanni Boccaccio who alleged that "the artist in imitating nature only follows Nature's own command".[91]


Ridykeulous, The Advantages of Being a Woman Lesbian Artist, 2007

The group Ridykeulous overwrote the 1988 Gorilla Girls' poster The Advantages of Being a Woman Lesbian Artis with their own messages in 2007.

Notable collections[edit]

Other notable exhibitions[edit]

Guerrilla Girls Portfolio Exhibition, Mjellby Art Museum, Sweden. September 29, 2018 – January 27, 2019
  • Beyond the Streets, 2018, Los Angeles[56]
  • Guerrilla Girls Review the Whitney, 1987, The Clocktower, New York City[12]
  • Guerrilla Girls: Exposición Retrospectiva, 2013, Alhóndiga Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain[69]
  • Guerrilla Girls: Not Ready to Make Nice, 30 Years and Still Counting, Abron Arts Center, New York City[6]
  • Media Networks: Andy Warhol and the Guerrilla Girls, (display), 2016, Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom[75]
  • Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Artworld and Beyond, 2012–2017, Columbia College Chicago, Chicago Illinois (traveled to 10 additional venues around the US)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Guerrilla Girls". Tate.
  2. ^ Brockes, Emma (April 29, 2015). "The Guerrilla Girls: 30 years of punking art world sexism". The Guardian. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Guerrilla Girls | Artist Profile".
  4. ^ "Guerilla Girls Bare All". Archived from the original on January 13, 2014.
  5. ^ Bettina Baumann (March 8, 2017). "The Guerrilla Girls' fight against discrimination in the art world". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d Ryzik, Melena (August 5, 2015). "The Guerrilla Girls, After 3 Decades, Still Rattling Art World Cages". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "MoMA Fact Sheet" (PDF).
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Further reading[edit]

  • Boucher, Melanie. Guerrilla Girls: Disturbing the Peace. Montreal: Galerie de l'UQAM, 2010. ISBN 2-920325-32-9
  • Brand, Peg. "Feminist Art Epistemologies: Understanding Feminist Art". Hypatia. 3 (2007): 166–89.
  • Guerilla Girls. Guerilla Girls: the art of behaving badly. San Francisco, California: Chronicle Books, 2020. ISBN 9781452175812
  • Guerrilla Girls. Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls, with an Essay by Whitney Chadwick. New York City: HarperCollins, 1995. ISBN 0-04-440947-8
  • Guerrilla Girls. Bitches, Bimbos, and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls' Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes. London: Penguin, 2003. ISBN 978-0-14-200101-1
  • Guerrilla Girls. The Guerrilla Girls' Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art. London: Penguin, 1998. ISBN 978-0-14-025997-1
  • Janson, HW. Apes and Ape-Lore in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. London: Warburg Institute, University of London, 1952.
  • Page-Lieberman, Neysa (ed.). Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Art World and Beyond, with essays by Joanna Gardner-Huggett, Neysa Page-Lieberman, Kymberly Pinder, and a foreword by Jane M. Saks, Columbia College Chicago, 2011, 2013, 2017. ISBN 0929911431
  • Raidiza, Kristen. "An Interview with the Guerrilla Girls, Dyke Action Machine DAM!, and the Toxic Titties". NWSA Journal. 1 (2007): 39–48. JSTOR 431723. Accessed February 27, 2013.
  • Schechter, Joel. Satiric Impersonations: From Aristophanes to the Guerrilla Girls. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0-8093-1868-1

External links[edit]