The Guerrilla Girls Talk Back

The National Museum of Women in the Arts presents three exhibitions June 17–October 2, 2011: Pressing Ideas: Fifty Years of Women’s Lithographs from Tamarind, The Guerrilla Girls Talk Back, and Susan Swartz: Seasons of the Soul.

 The Guerrilla Girls Talk Back features more than 70 works by the Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous artist-activists, who have raised awareness about the sexism and racism pervading contemporary culture since the early 1980s. Posters, fliers, billboards, bus advertisements, newsletters, peel-off stickers and postcards produced by the Guerrilla Girls in the 1980s and 1990s targeted museums, art dealers, curators, and critics in an effort to strike out against the inequitable treatment of female and non-white artists. Their most famous poster, Do Women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?, 1989 (below), contrasts the percentage of works featuring nude women (85%) with the percentage of works created by women artists (less than 5%) on view at the museum’s modern art galleries. In the past ten years the group has also tackled issues such as corruption and sexism in the federal government, censorship of art and the fight over reproductive rights.

Image of the Guerrilla Girls's Erase Discrimination

Erase Discrimination, 1999; Pink rubber with ink screenprint; each 1 1/8 x 2 ½ x ¼ in.; Collection of the Akron Museum of Art; Image Courtesy the Akron Museum of Art

Combining bold graphics with eye-opening facts and figures, the Girls’s work provokes a range of emotion from dismay to humor, to disappointment in current affairs, to affirmative approval of the artists’ efforts. Whether it is the ironic humor of works such as The U.S. Homeland Terror Alert System for Women, 2003 or the shocking updated version of Do Women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? from 2005, The Guerrilla Girls Talk Back captures viewers’ attention with its startling statistics and confrontational imagery. 

Image of Do Women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?

Untitled (from the series “Guerrilla Girls Talk Back: The First Five Years,” 1985–1990), 1986; Color photolithograph on paper; 17 x 22 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts

Many of the works in The Guerrilla Girls Talk Back come from two portfolios in NMWA’s permanent collection, Guerrilla Girls Talk Back: The First Five Years, 1985–90, and Guerrilla Girls Talk Back: Portfolio 2, 1991–2005, which were generously donated to the museum by Steven Scott.

For additional information about The Guerrilla Girls Talk Back, as well as Pressing Ideas: Fifty Years of Women’s Lithographs from Tamarind and Susan Swartz: Seasons of the Soul, visit www.nmwa.org.

—Kate Vanderpool is an education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts