The poster pictured above is the Guerrilla Girls first color poster, which remains the groups most iconic image, the 1989 Metropolitan Museum poster. This poster is a response to the overwhelming amount of female nudes counted in the Modern Art sections, the poster asks, sarcastically, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” Next to the text is an image of the Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres painting La Grande Odalisque, one of the most famous female nudes in Western art history, with a gorilla head placed over the original face. It is known that in the original painting, the artists added five extra vertebrae to her spine, it is also known that male artists typically distorted the female so she would appear more attractive to the viewer’s eyes – think of this as an ancient version of photoshopping by hand. Also Ingres painted this woman with an emotionless expression to help convey that the role of a concubine was to satisfy the lustful pleasures of the sultan – and nothing more. So why cover this beautiful work of art with a gorilla head? The head detracts from the male gaze and changes the way viewers are able to look at or understand the highly sexualized image. Further, the addition of the gorilla questions and modifies stereotypical notions of female beauty within Western art and popular culture, another stated goal of the Guerrilla Girls.
So, who are The Guerrilla Girls? They are a group of anonymous females who take the names of dead women artists as pseudonyms and appear in public usually during protests and demonstrations wearing gorilla masks – to focus on the issues at hand rather than their personalities. They produce posters, stickers, books, printed projects, and actions that expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world, film and the culture at large.
It all started in 1984; The Museum of Modern Art in New York opened an exhibition titled An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture. Out of 169 artists, only 13 were women. “Kynaston McShine (the show’s curator), gave interviews saying that any artist who wasn’t in the show should rethink ‘his’ career.” In reaction to the exhibition, the Guerrilla Girls staged protests outside of the museum. Why did women and artists of color do better in the 1970’s than in the 80’s? Was there a backlash in the art world? Who was responsible? What could be done about it? At the time the most influential galleries and museums exhibited almost no women artists.
The Guerrilla Girls continue to grow in numbers all over the world. They continue to strive for gender and racial equality through their demonstrations and exhibitions. They inspire woman all over the world to stand up for what they believe in, to strive as artists and to fight for equality. An excerpt from their book Bitches, Bimbos, and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls’ Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes states “Guerrilla Girls, who wear the masks of big, hairy, powerful jungle creatures whose beauty is hardly conventional… believe all animals, large and small, are beautiful in their own way. “