Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Guerrilla Warfare: Tackling Misogyny and Racism through Art

In case I’m starting to sound like a one-trick pony with my praise of Zimmerli’s programming, I’ll let it be known that the Venetian Masters wasn’t the only exhibit I took in today. (Yes, today was a rare but beautiful day where I went to work and still managed to squeeze in two art exhibits viewing.) Thanks to the Rutgers Institute for Women and Art, artwork from the Guerrilla Girls was on display at the Mason Gross gallery not terribly far from the Zimmerli Art Museum.

If you don’t know about Guerrilla Girls yet, you should definitely check them out. In 2009, I saw a (smaller) exhibit of theirs on display at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and their works instantly resonated with me. In a nutshell, Guerrilla Girls aim to combat misogyny and racism through witty and irreverent art. They’ll use anything to get their message across - banners, posters, stickers, erasers, etc. In fact, the original Guerrilla Girls has sprouted two offshoots – Guerrilla Girls on Tour! and Guerrilla Girls BroadBand – to expand their reach to theatrical performances and web-based and interactive multimedia productions. Like any good vigilantes, the Guerrilla Girls are an anonymous set of women who take on the names of dead female artists and wear gorilla masks in public to hide their identities. One (somewhat ominous) explanation of the rationale for this read: “They could be anywhere; they are everywhere.”

But what I like about Guerrilla Girls is that it’s not all just stunts and catchy visuals. Their work frequently gives the viewer a number of startling statistics such as this one:

And, it is not a static group or collection of artworks. Guerrilla Girls are constantly updating their works and tailoring them to the specific places where they are exhibiting. One interesting project (of which part of was displayed at the Rutgers’ exhibit) involved asking various groups of women what issues they wanted to see Guerrilla Girls address next. Sadly indicative of our culture and what kinds of uphill battles women have to face, the top responses were rape and domestic violence. As this might suggest, the Guerrilla Girls have long since moved from merely discussing misogyny in the art world to discussing all kinds of issues facing women from unequal pay to abortion rights to the negative impact of advertising on women’s body image.

Walking through the rooms of the exhibit was a rather remarkable experience as I began in a room with the oldest works and made my way up to the newest ones. It was both interesting and sad to see that over time most of the issues remained still the same and some of the statistics had improved only the slightest bit if at all. One set of posters dealt with the politics of George Bush and the Gulf War and I had to do a double-take before I realized they weren’t discussing George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. (Funny how we don’t seem to learn from the mistakes of the past…)

Unfortunately, today was the last day for the Guerrilla Girls exhibit at Rutgers, but undoubtedly you’ll be able to catch them somewhere around here soon. In the meantime you, like me, might be interested in checking out some of their books, such as The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art. In addition, the Institute for Women and Art provided a handy flyer at the exhibit listing some related resources at Rutgers including the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series, the Women Artists Archives National Directory, the Feminist Art Project, and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society. Happy reading!

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