The Guerrilla Girls, a collective of anonymous female artists, will be showing their touring exhibition, “Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Artworld and Beyond” at Stony Brook University’s Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery through Oct. 22.
Since 1985, members of the group, who wear gorilla masks and take the names of dead female artists, have used wit and humor to open a discussion on issues like gender inequality.
Newsday’s Rachel Uda spoke with Frida Kahlo, one of the group’s founding members, about their new exhibition and their more than 30 years of combating inequity in the arts.
Q: How did the Guerrilla Girls get their start?
A: In 1985, there was an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that purported to be a survey of the most significant contemporary art in the world. It had about 200 artists and there were only about 15 women and even fewer artists of color. And a group of us just started to ask the question, ‘How can this demographic be considered the most significant contemporary art when it was so biased toward white males?’
So we just started putting up posters asking questions, stating the facts about the demographic in the art world. The posters just got everyone’s attention and got people talking about the issue.
Q: Why wear masks and remain anonymous?
A: We decided to be anonymous because in a way we were attacking the system in which we were making our living. It was very self-serving in the beginning. We didn’t want anyone to come back and hurt us. We later realized it was a great kind of activist strategy.
Q: Do you have a favorite exhibit at Stony Brook?
A: I was most impressed by the chalk wall where people could write their comments or complaints or feminist criticisms. It was a very civilized kind of wall. People didn’t write over other people and the criticism was mostly positive in tone and constructive.
Q: In the 30 years that you’ve been doing this, have you seen art institutions make any progress in regards to gender equity?
A: We have. When we first started 30 years ago, art dealers and art critics would say things like, ‘Well, women or artists of color just don’t make art good enough.’ I don’t think anyone would say that anymore, because there’s such implicit bias in that. That’s certainly a step forward.
That being said, there’s still a crushing glass ceiling there. And now, these artists are oftentimes tokenized. Institutions will sometimes show one women artist or one artist of color and think that the problem is solved.
Q: What other social or political issues are the Guerrilla Girls passionate about?
A: We’ve weighed in on whatever strikes us as being unfair. We dealt with the #OscarsSoWhite movement, recently, about the lack of actors of color in Hollywood. We’ve also written books about female stereotypes and about the history of hysteria.
Q: What are your thoughts on this year’s presidential election and the prospect of potentially electing the country’s first female president?
A: We believe in freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I think that those are things that are at risk in this election. We certainly don’t support Donald Trump in any way, and we think it would be a game-changer if we had a female president.