The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist:
Working without the pressure of success.
Not Having to be in shows with men.
Having an escape from the art world with your four freelance jobs.
Knowing your career might pick up after you're eighty.
Being reassured that whatever kind of art you make it will be labeled feminine.
Not being stuck in a tenured teaching position.
Seeing your ideas live on in the works of others.
Having the opportunity to choose between career and motherhood.
Not having to choke on those big cigars or paint in italian suits.
Having more time to work since your mate dumped you for someone younger.
Being included in revised versions of art history.
Not having to undergo the embarassment of being called a genius.
Getting your picture in an art magazine wearing a gurilla suit.
Who are the Guerrilla Girls?
We're a bunch of anonymous females who take the names of dead women artists as pseudonyms and appear in public wearing gorilla masks. We have produced posters, stickers, books, printed projects, and actions that expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world, film and the culture at large. We use humor to convey information, provoke discussion, and show that feminists can be funny. We wear gorilla masks to focus on the issues rather than our personalities. Dubbing ourselves the conscience of culture, we declare ourselves feminist counterparts to the mostly male tradition of anonymous do-gooders like Robin Hood, Batman, and the Lone Ranger. Our work has been passed around the world by kindred spirits who we are proud to have as supporters. It has also appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, Bitch and Bust; on TV and radio, including NPR,, the BBC and CBC; and in countless art and feminist texts. The mystery surrounding our identities has attracted attention. We could be anyone; we are everywhere.
How did your group get started? Why do you call yourselves Guerrillas? Why girls? Why the gorilla masks? Why the pseudonyms?
That is ancient history....you can read all about it in our interview.
Do you wear those masks all the time? How about in airplanes?
Early on we would wear masks when we put up posters, but it was really hard to see what we were doing. We ended up pasting ourselves to some walls in New York. Truth be told, we only wear those masks when we appear in public as GGs. We travel as our real life selves, with our masks in our carry-ons, looking for the nearest telephone booth, alley or elevator to use as a changing room.
Does anyone know who you really are?
We have moles all over the world who pass us inside information and who might know one or two of us, but never the whole group. Some of our mothers know, some of our partners know, but only our hairdressers know for sure!
You use the “f” word a lot. Are you feminists? Do women need to be feminists?
Ohhhh, the "f" word. We have never understood why anyone wouldn't want to call herself—or himself—a feminist!!!!! Let's get real here: the same people who say they are not feminists support feminist issues. We believe feminism is a fundamental way of looking at the world and recognizing that half of us are female and all of us should be equal. It's a fact of history that for centuries women have not had the rights and privileges of men and it's time for that to end. Despite the tremendous gains of women over the last hundred years, misogyny— the hatred or hostility towards women as a whole— is still rampant throughout our culture and in the larger world. We think that is the #1 reason women need feminism. By the way, we think there are many feminisms, and we support most of them.
How many Guerrilla Girls are there? Has your group changed over the years? Are there groups in other cities?
Because of our anonymity, we never say exactly how many we are. Many women have come in and out of the group over the years, but we've always been fairly small at any one time. Two of us, Kathe Kollwitz and Frida Kahlo, have been in the group since the beginning and, with other terrific members, have worked on almost every poster, book and project that has come out under the GG name. Read more of our herstory here.
How can I join the Guerrilla Girls? How can I help?
We can't tell you how much we appreciate the support of so many of you around the world. As a small, anonymous group, we are usually not open to new members, but there are lots of ways you can participate and help. First, we would love you to download our stickers and posters and put them up in your city. Second, we ask that you use us as a model: think up your own name and your own outrageous identity and put up a couple of posters about an issue that is important to you. If it works, do it again. If it doesn't, do it again anyway. Third, please email us and ask to join our mailing list for news of future actions. (We promise not to send stuff very often.)
What keeps you Girls going? When are you Girls going to retire and take those masks off?
We have our brilliant supporters to blame for our longevity. Every time we think it's time to hang up our masks and get back to our other lives, another opportunity comes along to do a book or a billboard or a comic book or go on tour to talk about our history and we just can't say no. What started out as a lark has become an ongoing responsibility, a mission. We just can't abandon our masked duty! It's been a lot of fun, too!
What is your philosophy for making activist art?
We try to be different from the kind of political art that is angry and points to something and says “This is bad.” That's preaching to the converted. We want to be subversive, to transform our audience, to confront them with some disarming statements, backed up by facts—and great visuals—and hopefully convert them. We carefully craft everything we do. We try to twist an issue around and present it in a way that hasn't been seen before. We usually test-drive a project by showing it to a few people beforehand to gauge their response. We've also learned that focusing on one aspect of an issue is better than trying the change the whole world in a single work.
What role does humor play in your work? How does it spin your message?
We've discovered that ridicule and humiliation, backed up by irrefutable information, can disarm the powers that be, put them on the spot, and force them to examine themselves. A few years ago, some new members joined who were impressed by our reputation but disagreed with our sense of humor. They wanted us to start organizing seminars and writing position papers. They lived out the stereotype of feminists with no sense of humor. We had to kiss them goodbye.
Has your work made a difference?
We never imagined that we would become a model for feminist activists and would become part of women's and gender studies curriculums all over the world! Museums we once fingered for discrimination (and still do) have our posters in their collections. Libraries preserve portfolios of our posters in their archives. Our art history book, The Guerrilla Girls' Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, has sold tens of thousands of copies and is still going strong! It's used as a textbook in colleges all over the world and has been translated into several languages. We've been included in hundreds of art and feminist anthologies and even the latest edition of Gardner's Art Through the Ages, a standard art history text. It's our honest hope that all this attention to our work and the issues we raise adds up to changes for women artists and artists of color.
So, are things ok for women in the art world now?
Things are better now than they ever have been for women and artists of color and we have helped effect that change. Right now there is decent representation of women and artists of color at the beginning and emerging levels of the art world. At the institutional level however, in museums, major collections and auctions sales, things are still pretty dismal for all but white guys. We believe that the economics of the art market is responsible for this. As long as art costs a lot of money and can be owned and controlled by individual collectors, it will represent the values of those people, not the larger art audience or the culture at large. We are still condemning the art world for its lack of ethics, tokenism and other bad behavior.
Why did you stray from the art world into the worlds of politics, Hollywood and other issues?
Almost from the beginning, we did campaigns about homelessness, abortion, and war, among many other issues. We've never been systematic, we just go after one target after another. (There are plenty to choose from.) Recently, we've been attacking the film industry for the pathetically low numbers of women and people of color behind the scenes. We're also working on more political posters, a body image campaign and an attack on the music industry.
Female stereotypes drive most women crazy. Is that why you wrote a book about them?
One day we were sitting around our secret clubhouse and we started listing all the female stereotypes we could think of. It was hilarious and liberating...and the list was endless! To be fair, we started a list of male stereotypes. When we had trouble filling a single column, we knew we were on to something! Maybe we could disempower stereotypes by examining them through our own special GG lens. Two years later we put the finishing touches on Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers, the Guerrilla Girls' Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes.
Why did you write the Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art? Aren't there already lots of books out there about women artists?
The work of feminist art historians over the last 30 years has shown how the means of art production in western cultures was denied to all but white male artists until well into the 20th century. Still there have always been creative and adventurous women who bucked the system and lived creative lives of their own invention. Some achieved success while alive, only to later be written out the history books. Others were unacknowledged in their own lifetime, only to be discovered after death. In Bedside Companion we wanted to tell the stories of these courageous women artists and also to make fun of the standard art history canon for ignoring them. Another goal was to write the first humorous art history book, mean to be read in the bathroom, and intended to make readers laugh, not put them to sleep. It's also thin, with sharp edges and can be used as a weapon!
Are you male bashers? If you don't have any men in your group, isn't that discrimination? How can men help you?
We realize that times have changed since 1985. Many more men now call themselves feminists (probably because they had mothers who were!) But we started out as a female empowerment group and we needed to be all-female for that. We have arguments all the time now about accepting males and the jury's still out on it. But we have found some ways for guys to help us during our appearances. Come to one and see it!
Why bother to criticize the film industry?
There are lots of luscious babes on the screen in movies and TV, but those are about the only women to be found in the entertainment industry. Behind the scenes there are a few tokens, but nowhere enough cinematographers, screenwriters, directors, camera operators, etc., who are female and of color. We believe that any mass art form that discriminates to that degree should take a long, hard look at itself. We also think that moviegoers should start a rebellion at the box office, or at the very least, download our stickers and put them up in movie theater bathrooms!
What happens when you go to film festivals? What was it like to raid Sundance?
Is was a real rush to work behind the scenes at Sundance, putting up our stickers on bulletin boards, in bathrooms and on movie posters. Then we'd hurry back to our hotel rooms and log on to Indie Wire to read what they were saying about our caper, then check our email for press responses. Our stickers went all the way to New Zealand and we got an angry letter from a theater owner claiming that the film industry there wasn't nearly as bad as Hollywood. Great to snag him into the discourse!
How were you able to put up those billboards in Hollywood? What did people say about them?
Back in 1999, The Nation asked us to contribute something to a special issue on film and culture. We came up with The Anatomically Correct Oscar. We redesigned the golden boy to make him look more like the white guys who usually win. In 2002, a bunch of female film makers joined us to raise the money to do it as a billboard at Melrose and Highland, a few blocks from the Academy Award ceremony. It got a lot of press and was a great way to annoy Hollywood in it's own backyard. We followed it up at Oscar time in 2003 with another redesign of the Golden Boy as The Trent L'Ottscar, comparing Hollywood to the ultimate Old Boys Club, the US Senate. Statistically speaking.... the Senate wins! In 2006 we unveiled our third billborad in Hollywood.
Your movie poster for The Birth of Feminism makes everyone laugh out loud. Did the women you featured have anything to say about it?
Film producers are always coming to us saying they want to make a film about the history of feminism. Looking at the endless movie posters of undressed actresses, we realized that maybe feminists everywhere should be thankful that Hollywood hasn't made that film. To prove it, we made a poster for the film that we hope never gets made the Hollywood way, The Birth of Feminism Movie Poster. We sent a copy to our old friend, Gloria Steinem. She was really annoyed when she first opened it cause she thought it was an authorized film about her. After she saw our name, she had a good chuckle!
You girls have been all over the place? What have you observed in your travels?
We've been in every state in the union except Alaska and Arkansas, all over Europe, in Australia and Brazil. We're planning trips to Mexico, Guatemala and New Zealand. We've met brilliant artists and activists all over and heard their stories and issues. Conditions are different in each place and there's lots of work to be done. We're thrilled to be models for activism and love to see women to confronting injustices on their own turf with their own strategies. What works in Toledo might not work in Rio! We encourage women, and men, to form their own groups, with their own names and identities, and dream up outrageous actions to foment change.
Anything planned for the next year? The next decade? The next millennium?
We're planning more political posters, a new billboard in Hollywood for the 2006 Oscars, a body image campaign and an attack on the music industry. Then, who knows!