Since 1985, the Guerrilla Girls, a collective of anonymous feminist activist artists, have brought widespread attention to the issues of sexism and racism in the art world. By disrupting mainstream culture and media with posters, billboards, publications, social media, public appearances, and exhibitions, this group calls out bias—and advocates for gender equity—in art, film, pop culture, and even politics.
Share your favorite women artists working for gender equity on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook using the hashtag #5WomenArtists and tagging @WomenInTheArts.
1. The Conscience of the Art World
The Guerrilla Girls address systemic discrimination by “revealing the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, and the downright unfair.” Though members obfuscate their identities by wearing gorilla masks and adopting the names of deceased—and often forgotten—women artists, the collective isn’t shy about shaming specific collectors, critics, museums, galleries, and publications for their problematic practices.
2. Creative Complaining
The group reveals shocking statistics and presents them with sardonic wit and surprising graphics. This strategy shakes audiences out of complacency and encourages action. One famous tactic—the museum “weenie count”—juxtaposes the percentage of female artists whose work is on view with the percentage of nude women, painted by men, on display. Try this revealing exercise during your next museum visit.
3. The Only “ism” Here is Feminism!
By 1989, when the Guerrilla Girls created When Racism And Sexism Are No Longer Fashionable…, NMWA already owned artworks by 34 of the artists named. Today, the museum’s collection features works by more than 1,000 artists, including 46 of those mentioned. Can you find artwork by artists on that list at your favorite museum? If not, ask why!
4. Not OK!
While the Guerrilla Girls initially addressed the lack of diversity in the New York art world, the group’s work has grown to point out inequities throughout the U.S. and abroad. In 2007, the collective collaborated with the Washington Post to admonish “boy crazy” federally funded D.C. arts institutions. The capitol city’s top art museums held very few pieces of art by women, with most of it kept in storage, not on display.
5. Guerrillas in Our Midst
NMWA hosted a special exhibition, The Guerrilla Girls Talk Back, in 2011, featuring a selection of the museum’s 84 works by the collective. Today, several of their works are on view in the thematic collection gallery “Rebels with a Cause”—swing by the museum to see them in person.
—Adrienne L. Gayoso is the senior educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.