Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Guerrilla Girls and the Art of Sarcasm

Guest blogger Anya Gruber is a Smith College student, class of 2016, majoring in Art History. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

Smith College students are no strangers to wit and well-timed sarcastic comments. Nor are we strangers to feminism and fighting for equality of all kinds. The Guerilla Girls, a group of women who remain anonymous by taking on the name of dead female artists, seem like they would fit right in at Smith. They create posters with sharply satirical messages and images, cutting straight to the heart of the deeply ingrained sexism and racism that is all too characteristic of the art world. They focus primarily on the underrepresentation of women and people of color in galleries and museums, but also comment on Hollywood, playwriting and art publications. They criticize the imbalance of politics, and defend women’s rights. The Guerrilla Girls themselves seem like a very interesting, dedicated group of people – to maintain anonymity, they wear gorilla masks to every public appearance. 

Guerrilla Girls, American 20th century. Hormone Imbalance, Melanin Deficiency, 1993. Offset lithograph printed in black on medium thick, smooth, white paper. Purchased with the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:31-32

For the past week or so, I’ve been helping to catalogue 68 Guerrilla Girls prints that the Cunningham Center recently purchased. I was familiar with the Guerilla Girls before I started this project, but the only one of their posters I could readily recognize was the most famous one, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” with the image of the nude woman with the ubiquitous, delightfully monstrous gorilla head.

Guerrilla Girls, American 20th century. Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted 1985 – 2006, 1989. Photolithograph printed in color on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Fred Bergfors and Margaret Sandberg Foundation. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2006:44-7

Now, looking at all the prints as I’m cataloguing them, I feel like I’ve learned so much. They make use of a lot of statistics and other factual information to make their point which, alongside incredibly pointed remarks and bold headlines that capture your attention, makes quite a memorable combination. 

Guerrilla Girls, American 20th century. Bus Companies are More Enlightened Than NYC Art Galleries, from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted 1985 – 2006, 1986. Lithograph printed in black on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Fred Bergfors and Margaret Sandberg Foundation. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2006:44-4

The Guerrilla Girls are bringing attention to very serious issues in concise, daring posters. The posters make their point quickly, and their sharp sarcasm makes the facts all the more shocking, knowing that what they’re saying is absolutely true. 

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