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Guerrilla Girls

FEMINIST ART - They are a secret society whose names, faces and number of members remain unknown. But their message is heard loud and clear, as in overseas-in-other-countries “loud” and billboard-sized “clear.” They are the Guerrilla Girls and they threaten to be anywhere at anytime. Their upcoming visit to Albuquerque, however, is no secret.

Co-founders of the Guerilla Girls, Frida Kahlo and Käthe Kollwitz (adopting the names of dead women artists as pseudonyms is part of the group’s shtick) will give a presentation at the Kimo Theatre promising to “educate, infuriate and entertain.” The feminist art group has been rocking the boat since 1985, admonishing institutions in the art and film world that perpetuate sexism and racism. Despite their trademark gorilla masks, these are women who should be taken quite seriously.
The Guerrilla Girls have produced posters, books, billboards and entire exhibits displaying the cold, hard facts about the low percentage of women and minority artists represented in art and film. One poster produced by the group is aimed at the film industry and touts facts such as “No woman has ever won an Oscar for direction, cinematography or sound,” “94 percent of writing awards have gone to men” and “In 1987, 2.4 percent of major films were directed by women. By 1999, that number rose to a whopping 4 percent.” Other examples of the group’s work include the White House receiving a gift of estrogen pills courtesy of the Guerrilla Girls and a slew of informative coasters found their way into bars in Europe.

Museums and libraries have collected entire portfolios of Guerrilla Girl posters and after 20 years of raising their own unique brand of hell, it is not uncommon for their name to pop up in art history and women’s studies classes.

What started as a way to vent frustration by tacking up posters in New York City in the dark of night has blossomed into an activist group manifesting a noticeable change in American culture. But despite these inroads, there is still a lot of work to do, as Kollwitz explained recently in an interview with Local iQ. Though seemingly intimidating with their hairy masks and black attire, this group is much less judgmental than one would expect. Kollwitz is somewhat understanding of why people are hesitant to associate themselves with the word “feminism.”

“(It) has been demonized for so long,” she said of the common feminist stereotype as humorless, dour, bitchy and ugly. “I can’t tell people what to call themselves ... the labels aren’t super important. But to me it’s important to call myself a feminist. It’s a whole new way of looking at the world.”

As intimidating as feminism can be for some, part of the Girls’ ammunition is humor and wit, hence the gorilla masks. Kollwitz noted that the group believes feminism could use a little humor and it certainly helps to spread their message to those who may not initially be convinced.

“We aren’t just interested in talking to people who agree with us,” Kollwitz explained, adding that when addressing people who may find their messages abrasive, a little humor goes a long way. “It lets you sneak in and surprise and disarm them.”

516 Arts invited the Guerrilla Girls to speak in Albuquerque as part of their Speak Out: Art, Design & Politics exhibition, which is on display through December 20. The co-sponsor of the visit, Through the Flower, is a local non-profit art organization founded by accomplished artist, Judy Chicago.

Susannah Rodee, executive director of Through the Flower, described her excitement about the event in a recent interview, saying that the efforts of the Guerrilla Girls, “Are directly related to the mission of Through the Flower, which is to educate the public about the importance of art and its power in countering the erasure of women’s achievements.”

In addition to their presentation, the Guerrilla Girls will also facilitate a workshop. After the masked avengers explain their philosophy on political art, workshop participants will be given the opportunity to work on their own political art pieces in small groups.

“Great projects have come out of these workshops,” Kollwitz said. “We get out of town and then the people (from the workshops) go and raise hell.”

Though the group has at times been in serious danger chased, threatened, etc., Kollwitz noted that not all Guerrilla Girls adversaries tend to react in such an inciting way.

“A lot of discrimination is unconscious, people just perpetuating the status quo,” she said.
Kollwitz added that the Guerrilla Girls has often received letters of apologies and thanks. Most importantly, the group’s unique and unparalleled work has prompted well-known museums to increase their displays of works by minorities and women. But the Guerrilla Girls aren’t relaxing one bit and will continue to roam the world, reinventing the “F” word along the way.

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