01/20/2015 09:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Guerrilla Girls Are The Feminist Masked Avengers The Art World Still Needs

We had always hoped the real life super-heroines of our time would wear masks. And then there were the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist art collective that started kicking the art world's ass 20 years ago -- disguises and all.

Donning gorilla masks and mini skirts, and sporting pseudonyms of deceased lady artists like Frida Kahlo, Kathe Kollwitz, and Alma Thomas, the avengers aimed to shed light on the inequality of major art world traditions and institutions, using dismal facts and razor sharp wit to restore justice to a faulty system.

An upcoming exhibition at the Pomona College Museum of Art entitled "Guerrilla Girls: Art in Action" looks back on the protests, artworks and flagrant acts of misogyny shaming that have punctuated the Guerrilla legacy. Through stickers, posters, billboards, dialogues, debates, and of course the beloved "weenie counts" (counting up the criminal stats of women and artists of color in major museums), the Girls raise awareness and spread accountability regarding racism and sexism in the arts.


Guerrilla Girls, Women in America Earn Only 2/3 Of What Men Do, 1985, 17 x 22 in. Pomona College Collection. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Walter and Elise Mosher.

The Girls originally banded together in 1985 as a response to the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition, "An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture," which featured 152 male artists and a whopping 17 females. The idea of the gorilla masks originally spawned from a spelling mistake -- guerrilla became gorilla. But something about the conflation of eroticized women and powerful beasts seemed to fit, as did the correlation between artists and tamed apes. "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," the Girls explain in "Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers."

The New York collective has been growing and changing ever since the 1980s. Over the course of two decades, the artists have published books including the aforementioned "Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers," an illustrated guide to female stereotypes, and "The Guerrilla Girl’s Museum Activity Book," a parody of a kids' museum activity book. They've set their sights on the film industry with billboards reading, "Even the Senate is More Progressive than Hollywood," and they've lambasted the words of conservative politicians including George H. W. Bush and Michele Bachmann.

Basically, they right the wrongs of the big bad art world -- or, at least, spark a dialogue that can't be ignored, one scantily clad human gorilla at a time.


Guerrilla Girls, Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met. Museum?, 2012, 18 x 24 in. Pomona College Collection. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Walter and Elise Mosher.

"What pisses us off is that feminism is one of the great human rights movements of our time and it still doesn't get taken seriously," the Guerrilla Girls explained in an earlier interview. "Our goal is to try to twist issues around, we always combine humor and facts. We don't always succeed but we want to do something unforgettable and transformative; we don't want to be preaching to the choir. Humor helps when you're talking to someone who doesn't agree with you -- it's way of communicating. When you make someone laugh they are on your side for a second."

"Guerrilla Girls: Art in Action" runs from January 20 through May 17, 2015 at the Pomona College Museum of Art. See a preview of the works below.

Guerrilla Girls


Kiki Smith