Skip to main content
Photo by Lois Greenfield

It was 1985 when a group of women took the streets on a protest against the art world in favor of all the women who are underrepresented in art. In order to keep their anonymity, they wore guerilla masks. They also used names of famous women artists such as Frida Kahlo, Käthe Kollwitz and others, instead of their real names.

Their first demonstration was a poster which appeared in Manhattan. The poster featured a detailed discrimination against art galleries in New York. Additionally, it combined facts and figures, exposing the museums and galleries. The reason for that was the discrimination against women artists and artists of color. So, who are the guerilla girls? Lets follow the events that led to their fame and made them mainstream not only in New York, but also around the world.

The first time they made their appearance was at the exhibition An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture. The host of the event was Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition featured 161 artists of whom only 13 were women and no black artists were represented. The Guerilla Girls protested this fact with posters, chants and placards. However, they failed to attract as much attention as they would want to.

They realized that they had to try new methods to fight and reach a wider audience. This is when the idea for the masks was born and they started using pseudonyms of famous women artists. “We were funny instead of super serious all the time,” said a Guerrilla Girl known as Gertrude Stein. “No one knew who we were. And we caused a sensation.” This helped the group keep the focus on the issues that they were fighting for, instead of their personalities.

A poster from the Guerilla Girls

Over the years, critics have accused the group as rude and that they are pointing fingers. It is true that they embarrass people in many of their demonstrations, but this is part of their identity. As their reputation grew over the years they reached targets even outside the art world. Their “victims” include right wing politicians, journalists, Hollywood artists and celebrities in general. They have also collaborated with institutions like TATE and MoMA. Many criticize them that they now work together with the people that they used to oppose years earlier.

Some of their noticeable accomplishments include The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist in 1988, which is a list of ways that women are missing from art, The Birth of Feminism in 2001 which attacks Hollywood and the 2015 poster How Many Women Had One-person Exhibitions At NYC Museums Last Year?

How Many Women Had One-person Exhibitions At NYC Museums Last Year?

Today only “Frida Kahlo” and Käthe Kollwitz remain active from the group. It is estimated that through the years, more than 100 women have participated in The Guerilla Girls. Their peak was in 2005 when they also had the most members. Also in 2005, the Venice Biennale included six posters by the Guerrilla girls critiquing gender discrimination in the art world, the film industry, and Bush administration policies. Additionally, The Guerilla Girls paved the way for more feminist groups to form, as well as they helped the LGTBQ community in many occasions to protest for their rights.

Leave a Reply