Who Are They?

Who are the Guerrilla Girls?

They wear disguises, use false names, put their art in places they shouldn’t and disrupt posh art events…who are these monkeys and what are they up to?

Photograph of the Guerrilla Girls Photograph: George Lange

The Guerrilla Girls
Photo: George Lange

Well we don't know exactly who they are (because of their disguises), but we do know that they are all women artists who, since the mid-1980s, have been protesting against racism and sexism in the art world.

Guerrillas – NO not GORILLAS! This isn't a wildlife website! – are rebels who do disruptive, subversive things to make people aware of their beliefs. This is why the group decided to call themselves the Guerrilla Girls.

The Guerrilla Girls hide their real identities by calling themselves names of great women artists from the past like Frida Kahlo and Käthe Kollwitz, and by wearing masks when protesting or fly-posting their posters. (They were originally going to wear ski masks to hide their faces but when one of their gang accidentally spelt guerrilla wrong and wrote gorilla, they thought it would be funny to wear monkey masks instead. We think they look pretty cool!)

Guerrilla Girls, ‘Guerrilla Girls Review The Whitney’ 1987
Guerrilla Girls
Guerrilla Girls Review The Whitney 1987
© courtesy www.guerrillagirls.com

They are best known for the posters they create and put up in places where they shouldn't, like on walls next to art galleries.

The Guerrilla Girls use real facts and figures in their posters to make their point, they say they are 'fighting discrimination with facts'. But as well as facts they use humour to change people's minds. One journalist described them as 'quippy as well as lippy'.

Look at this poster:

Guerrilla Girls, ‘Guerrilla Girls’ 1986 Report Card’ 1986
Guerrilla Girls
Guerrilla Girls’ 1986 Report Card 1986
© courtesy www.guerrillagirls.com

It's a report card (like you get in school) where they have marked and commented on the performance of art galleries. One gallery is told that it is 'boy crazy' another that it is 'not paying attention'.

(Hahaha! You rock Guerrilla Girls!).

When did it all start?

In 1985 the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York put on an exhibition called An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture that claimed to show all the important art that was happening at that time, but it didn't!

Of the 169 artists included only 13 were women and there were no black artists at all! The Guerrilla Girls were understandably not happy about this because lots of women and black artists were making exciting and interesting art. So they started making protest posters and pasting them up on the streets of New York around the museum.

This is one of the posters they put up. In it they list the four big New York Museums and show how many women artists had exhibitions there that year. (Which as you can see is hardly any!). No wonder they were angry – GRRRRR!

Guerrilla Girls, ‘How Many Women Artists Had One-Person Exhibitions In NYC Art Museums Last Year?’ 1985
Guerrilla Girls
How Many Women Artists Had One-Person Exhibitions In NYC Art Museums Last Year? 1985
© courtesy www.guerrillagirls.com

Their girl power works! Things are improving for women artists. Museums and galleries show their work more and they are taken more seriously. The Guerrilla Girls feel there is still a long way to go though. So they still make posters, billboards banners and stickers that they paste around cities, and they still protest at art events in their gorilla disguises.

Secret Supergirrrrls!

And what's it like to have a secret identity? One Guerrilla Girl said:

'It's like having a super-power'

And does ANYONE know their secret identities? The Guerrilla Girl known as Frida Kahlo says:

'Hard to tell. Partners know. Very close friends. My dog knows!'

Inspired by these kick-ass girls? Why not have a go at making your own protest poster? What makes you angry? Don't bottle it up, make a poster to make your point!

More to explore