Monday, November 21, 2011
The Guerrilla Girls
Guest blogger Karysa Norris (Dartmouth College '12) was a participant in the 2011 Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies (www.smith.edu/siams). She also served as the 2011 Brown SIAMS Fellow, a four-week internship in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints Drawings and Photographs.
One day during the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies, our Teaching Assistants Betsy and Jason brought us to the Cunningham Center to discuss issues of sexism and racism in art museums.To aid in our discussion, several prints and posters by the Guerrilla Girls were on display. I knew that a lot of the work had been produced in the 1980s and 90s, so I assumed that much of it would be outdated or irrelevant. As we perused the collection, however, one print in particular immediately caught my eye: Top Ten Ways to Tell if You’re an Art World Token from the Most Wanted collection. The first two examples made me smile: “Your busiest months are February (Black History Month), March (Women’s History), April (Asian-American Awareness), June (Stonewall Anniversary) and September (Latino Heritage)” and “At openings and parties, the only other people of color are serving drinks.” I immediately wanted to grab the nearest person, point, and say, “That’s me!”
Guerrilla Girls. American, 20th century. Top Ten Ways to Tell if You’re an Art World Token, from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted 1985-2006, 1995. Lithograph printed in black and grey on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Fred Bergfors and Margaret Sandberg Foundation. SC 2006:44
Far from being irrelevant, this 1995 print made me feel that my disappointment in the lack of diversity in museums was validated. I have only been a part of the museum world for a few short months but I have never been as aware of my minority status as I was while touring the museums of New England with SIAMS. Not one of the professionals we met with had an ethnic background similar to my own, and I was suddenly hyper-aware of how overwhelmingly white the art historical field is. Even at my home institution, the only faculty member of color is, not surprisingly, the professor of Asian art. Although I was happy to know that other people are aware of the issue of diversity, I was simultaneously saddened that it didn’t seem like much had changed in the past 16 years. Museums and art history departments are still largely dominated by upper-class white women, and it is still far too easy to see an individual of a different ethnicity or background such as myself as a “token” staff member.
I wasn’t the only one in the class who had a strong reaction to these protest posters. The Guerrilla Girls jumpstarted a conversation on diversity that continued long after our session with Betsy and Jason was over. I’m not exactly shy about bringing up topics of sexism and race with my peers, but having voices from women speaking about them for over twenty years supporting me certainly made my points more compelling!