CONFESSIONS OF THE GUERRILLA GIRLS: STORIES AND ANECDOTES BY MEMBERS AND FORMER MEMBERS 1985-2013
Close to 100 women have been members of the Guerrilla Girls over the years. This page is for sharing some of our experiences and favorite moments. MORE COMING SOON.
INTERNATIONAL EPIDEMIC BY VIOLETTE LE DUC
I took a vacation to Indonesia as my non-GG self, and on the island of Bali I visited a town well known for its indigenous painting. Walking along the mud-lined streets, I saw an unusual sign, in English: Gallery for Women’s Art. Since it’s men in that culture who traditionally make art, I went in and began talking to the owner. When she realized I was from New York, she became very animated and asked. “Do you know the Guerrilla Girls? I’d love to be on their mailing list.”
WORKING GIRLS BY ROSALBA CARRIERA
Early on, in our research gathering, we realized that when we called a museum or art dealer for information and said we were the Guerrilla Girls, our calls were likely to be put on hold, our questions avoided. We lost a lot of time. Then we learned not to ask for the boss, but just tell the secretaries and receptionists who we were and what we needed. Like magic, they always gave us the statistics right away.
CROWD CONTROL BY DIANE ARBUS
In 1987 we appeared at the Wadsworth Athenaeum in front of a crow of three or four hundred shouting supporters. Three GGs went on stage, one being eight and a half months pregnant. The crowd seemed aghast that in our presentation we disagreed vociferously among ourselves on a number of points, which is standard behavior at meetings and in conversation. Our soon-to-be-a-Guerrilla-mom was especially outspoken. Afterward, we heard that the audience was afraid to ask provocative questions for fear she might go into labor under stress.
COLOR BLIND BY ALMA THOMAS
On my first gig, at Northwestern University, I was caught completely off-balance when a white woman in the last row questioned my right to speak for artists of color. I was baffled by her criticism… After all, I am an African-American. I hesitated… And then I realized she didn’t see that I was black! The gorilla mask concealed most of the things that mark me as an African-American, such as my facial features and my hair. The limited assumptions she had of Guerrilla Girls made her read my light brown skin as white. A mask having such an effect really makes you think, about race and about assumptions.
FREE SPEECH BY ALICE NEEL
In 1993 we were given one of the Seven Wise Women awards from the Center for Women’s policy studies in Washington. Looking at the trip to accept the award as a vacation from our complicated lives, two of us found babysitters and went down for the ceremony and a hotel overnight. Because of our masks we couldn’t attend the dinner. Instead we ate in our rooms, watering down the meal with a few martinis. When we were called to receive the award we found a huge audience. The other awardees were giving very moving, carefully written speeches. It was embarrassing. We were completely unprepared. Someone had found a few bananas, and with the name of the awarding organization written inside my palm so I wouldn't forget it, we gave bananas to the MC and sponsors, making them honorary Guerrilla Girls. Then I gave an off-the-cuff speech extolling the fact that it would be women’s vision that will inevitably save the world. There was thunderous applause. I’m not quite sure where the speech came from inside myself, but I know I would never have been able to pull it off before I was a Guerrilla Girl.
IS THAT A BANANA IN YOUR POCKET OR ARE YOU JUST GLAD TO SEE US? BY JOAN MITCHELL AND EVA HESSE
We were flown to Berlin by the cultural advisor on women’s affairs to organize a protest against the exclusion exlusion of women and artist of color in the exhibtion “American Art in the 20th Century.” We snuck into the reception in full gorilla regalia, accompanied by a bunch of supporters wearing paper gorilla masks that we had supplied. We headed straight for the mayor of Berlin, who was making a speech.. Security guards drew their guns. We presented the mayor with a bunch of bananas and a few choice words about sexism and racism. He smiled. The guards looked relieved and relaxed the grip on their pistols.
A LONE RANGERETTE BY LIUBOV POPOVA
In 1992 I went with six other Girls to Washington for the Abortion Rights March, which was the largest political demonstration in that city’s history (over one million participants.) After we descended from the train, we donned our masks and melded into the swelling crowd. After awhile I realized that the jostling and swaying movement had pulled me away from my cohorts, and suddenly I was a lone gorilla in a sea of humans! I began to panic and hyperventilate, but soon other women began asking if they could have their pictures taken with me.
SPEAKING IN MOTHER TONGUES BY ROMAINE BROOKS AND ANA MENDIETA
At the Adelaide Arts Festival in Australia, we confronted Anselm Kiefer, the rich and famous German painter, for allowing his work to be shown in galleries that don't exhibit women or artists of color. After ranting about his mystical experiences in the bush, his fluent English suddenly escaped him and he sputtered in German when asked for a response. —RomaineEarlier, when Kiefer spoke, the audience was silent with adulation for this God-like person. He, in turn, seemed comfortable with a mass reaction of nearly religious awe. Then we came on. The audience burst into enthusiastic hoots and shouts, as if someone had pulled back flood gates. We weren't unapproachable or deified. The audience saw themselves in us. Instead of being the Great Goddesses, we were the Great Apes.
WOMEN COUNT BY KATHE KOLLWITZ
My non-GG self was having lunch with the male chief curator and his female assistant curator at a museum where I was about to have an exhibition. We were discussing women and art. The chief curator turned to me and said, ”You know, I think she's a Guerrilla Girl.” “Really?” I asked, “Why?” “Because every time we propose a group show or get an announcement from another museum she always counts the number of women artists. Don’t you think that’s ridiculous?” “Not at all.” I answered. “All women count.”
IS IT ART OR IS IT POLITICS? ONLY MoMA KNOWS BY FRIDA KAHLO
People always ask if what we are doing is art or not. From the beginning, as a group, we could never agree. This is a very important issue to art pundits, because if what we do is art they have to take it seriously, but if what we do is politics, then they can dismiss us as topical, not universal. Then, the Museum of Modern Art organized a show of political posters called “Committed to Print.” The curator excluded us, saying what we did wasn’t art. She seemed to have firm criteria: while a poster protesting war could be called art, a poster hanging in a museum protesting museum ethics was clearly politics.
OUR BRILLIANT CAREER BY GERTRUDE STEIN
Pat Hearn, a trendy art dealer, approached us a few years back and asked if we were interested in doing an installation for her gallery. We kicked the idea around but we’re pretty much split on the issue of participating in a commercial system that is discriminating to the extreme. It seemed like sleeping with the enemy. So we made an offer she had to refuse. We proposed a show about the situation of women and artists of color in her gallery. She would have to open her books so we could compare their sales prices. We promised not to mention names, just gender and race. “How interesting, how radical,” she cooed. Let me think about it and get right back to you. We never heard from her again.
NEW MATH BY FRIDA KAHLO
One of our earliest posters pointed a finger at particular Diane Brown for not showing enough women artists. One day I found my non-GG self in a street conversation with her and a group of others. A copy of the poster was plastered on a wall just behind her, facing the rest of us. Her young son was with her, and he seemed proud of being able to read it. In a singsong voice he recited out loud, “Diane Brown shows less than 10% women artists or none at all. What does that mean, Mommy?” She ever answered him that day, but when she remembered the poster for a CNN special called “Gender Wars.” She complained that we attacked her for showing less than 50% women. Math is soooo hard for women.