The Guerilla Girls advocate gender equality through art

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Fair Use: Guerrilla Girls Press Packet

“Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”
This question, first posed in 1989 by the art feminist group — the Guerilla Girls — encapsulates both their upfront, tongue-in-cheek method of campaigning and highlights the severe lack of female representation in the art community.
Based on a survey the Guerrillas conducted at the Modern Art section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, only 5% of artists represented were female but 85% of nude figures were female. Although this statistic may seem surprising, even more startling is how little progress has been made in the years since: in 2012, less than 4% of artists in the Modern Art section were female, but 76% of nude figures were females. Clearly, the art community still has a long way to go in terms of gender representation.

“I was definitely aware that the art world is dominated by male artists but I was surprised to what extent this is still true in 2016,” senior Nina Zietlow said. Zietlow was one of four members of the Senior Honors Art Seminar class that attended a presentation by the Guerrilla Girls at St. Catherine’s University on Oct. 5.

A major aspect of the issue of sexism and racism in the art world is the lack of awareness in the general community about it; however, that is going to change in the Twin Cities. From Jan.- Mar. 2016, the Twin Cities will host the Guerilla Girls’ largest collaboration with any community, dubbed the Twin Cities Takeover.

Across the metro, the Guerrilla Girls hosted lectures, discussions, and galleries at a variety of museums including the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and the Walker Art Center.
Zietlow agrees with the Guerrilla Girls’ message of the importance of representation and believes St. Paul Academy and Summit School students should as well.

“[Representation matters] because art is often a tool of self expression and social change so if we are only [to] recognize art from one demographic of people [white men], especially if that demographic is a group of oppressors, art is not longer as relevant,” Zietlow said.

While education about the issue is the first step to raising awareness, it is certainly not the final one. Zietlow believes that there are many ways SPA can help be the solution to the problem of sexism and racism in the art world.
“[SPA should] invite more female artists to show work in the Drake Gallery, read more books by female authors in English and history classes, in general talk about women’s issues more,” Zietlow said.

Senior Ingrid Topp-Johnson also attended the Guerrilla Girls presentation and, as a member of the Walker Art Center Teen Art Council, has had the opportunity to attend several workshops held by the group. While she supports the group’s mission, her interactions with the actual group members left something more to be desired.

“While I think that the mission of the Guerilla Girls — greater representation of women, people of color, and queer artists in museums, as well as accountability in how museums are financed — is very important and continues to be very important, I was somewhat disappointed with the Guerilla Girls themselves,” Topp-Johnson said.

Much of Topp-Johnson’s critique of the Guerrilla Girls stems from the fact that they generally overlooked issues of racism and transphobia in the art world in favor of sexism.

“Their presentation at St. Kate’s was subtly transphobic: multiple references to museums needing an ‘estrogen bomb’, ‘estrogen pills’, ‘gender reassignment surgery’, etc.,” Topp-Johnson said. “Furthermore, they are reticent to recognize their privilege as white women in the art world, using their anonymity to escape criticism.”
Topp-Johnson believes that the group should adapt to modern feminist standards, stretching to encompass issues of intersectionality rather than simply white feminist issues.

“[The Guerilla Girls] demonstrated that they were not genuinely interested in listening to the youth voice, but rather wanted to enforce the old guard of non-intersectional activism,” Topp-Johnson said.
However, it seems as though the rising generation of artists are ready to pick up the Guerrilla Girls’ agenda where they have left off.

“Members of the Teen Arts Councils in attendance have pushed back against them and called them out for the hypocrisy, and they have been tentatively receptive,” Topp-Johnson said.

Topp-Johnson still believes SPA students should participate in the Guerrilla Girls Takeover in order to learn about what has been done to combat unequal representation and what still needs to be accomplished.

“This is not to say that the importance of their legacy should be disregarded, on the contrary, I think it should inspire people to fill the role of dynamic whistleblower in the art world that they left behind,” she said.