Guerrilla Girls: The art of feminism, and the feminism of art

So, you get the gist, here’s the list of ‘-ists’ inspiring ‘The Guerrilla Girls’. Their feminist, anti-racist, artist and activist, anonymous protests are highlighting the injustices pervading the art world. Employing disruptive headlines, sparking outrage, and exposing bias and corruption, metaphorically likened to ‘guerrilla’ tactics has led to their dubbing as ‘The Guerrilla Girls.’

With their anonymity shrouded by gorilla masks to co-opt elements of humour into their strategy dispels the notion that fighting the good fight doesn’t always lead to solemnity in conviction. Remaining anonymous, further still, though pseudonyms harking to great artists like Frida Kahlo, Gertrude Stein, and Käthe Kollwitz serves to theatricalise their gestures and postures as a reminder, memorial and connection to the history of great women in art who have found themselves consistently overlooked and underestimated.

They protest this history of overlooked and undervalued artistic women through a simple technique, seen in the 1989 poster that changed it all, asking the simple question: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” The poster goes on to affirm that “less than 5% of artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are of women” which suggests the only way women can be recognised in art is through nudity and objectification. Contrastingly for men, recognised for their ambition and talent, has yielded a huge profit from these silenced figures. The sheer fact that there are more naked women than women in artists in museums like the Met. highlights the impact of the male gaze on art, throughout history to the present day.

Depicting women as sexual objects for male pleasure, in this way, raises questions about the fetishisation and appropriation of naked women’s bodies by capitalism. Despite being taboo in origin, in 1486, when Sandro Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ portrayed the idealised form of a woman’s body. this radical transgression from Renaissance Christian art sparked the beginning of Western art’s fixation on the female nude. The form is now, ironically, so widespread that women are commodified to sell commodities, ranging from billboards for car ads to bus stop posters for perfume.

Delving into the personal lives of male artists and their treatment of women in their own lives, the Guerrilla Girls examine the prominence of sexual violence and objectification of women by men who profit from their nude portraits has led to the emergence of further important questions which I will leave, you reader, pondering – is this more than the male gaze? Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life? What will it take for the art world to recognise women for more than just their bodies?

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Una Jones

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June 2022
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