Female Art Collective Goes Guerrilla

A group of women wearing gorilla masks are shattering the glass ceiling for women and people of color in the art world. With their provocative, attention-grabbing works, the Guerrilla Girls make an unmistakable statement about the status quo. 

The Pomona College Museum of Art (PCMA) is currently showcasing a selection of works from the Guerrilla Girls’ Portfolio Compleat 1985-2012. PCMA will be the first museum in Southern California to exhibit the work of the Guerrilla Girls. Posters, handbills, books and newsletters chronicle their battle to rewrite hegemonic narratives. 

Based on the assembly of artists most prominently represented in museums around the globe, there is no question as to who gets priority. The original mission of the Guerrilla Girls was to change this paradigm. Brightly colored posters exclaiming in bold type phrases like “Museums Cave in to Radical Feminists” and “Do Women Have to be Naked to get into the Met. Museum?” brazenly convey their message. 

The satirical work of the Guerrilla Girls has since expanded to deal with a range of social justice issues, including homelessness and abortion rights. Whatever injustice they are confronting, they do so with forceful ambition. Their provocative pieces are designed to be produced in large quantities so that they reach the widest viewership possible. 

The intrigue of the Guerrilla Girls lies at least partially in their anonymity. Like members of a secret society, their faces are hidden by gorilla masks whenever they make public appearances, and they use pseudonyms borrowed from famous dead female artists. This keeps the focus on their cause, and not on their identities.

“I think that anonymity adds a lot to their presentation,” Eliza Lewis SC ’17 said. “As a viewer I feel like their words resonated more because their personalities were taken out of the equation.”

In addition to the PCMA exhibit, students were able to see the Guerrilla Girls in action at their performance during Art After Hours Feb. 5. The Pomona College Department of Art History, the Claremont Graduate University Art Department and the Women’s Union at Pomona College joined forces to put together this free event. 

Edmunds Ballroom was alight with laughter, snaps and applause. The Guerrilla Girls excited their audience, using satire and critical humor as their main strategy. 

“I think that at the 5Cs where activism is so much a part of the culture, it’s important that we have speakers like this who give us insight into the way that this advocacy comes into play in the real world,” Abigail MacCumber SC ’17 said. 

Lucas Littlejohn PO ’17 expressed a similar sentiment, noting that as an institution we have a certain responsibility to uphold the values we promote. 

“At Pomona, where these kinds of dialogue are happening all the time, this presentation makes a lot of sense,” Littlejohn said. 

Topics discussed included not only underrepresentation of women and people of color in museums, but also the ways in which these groups are portrayed in the music industry, historical misunderstandings of women’s bodies and the corrupt influence of wealthy art collectors. 

The masked women were entirely unapologetic in their critique of major art institutions. Their self-proclaimed mission is to “seek out the understory, the subtext, the overlooked and the downright unfair, and expose it.” The group works to increase awareness of a very commonly overlooked injustice. 

“It was interesting to see the museums that I hold to such a high regard in a different light—I really had never even thought about the fact that women were so underrepresented,” Lindsey Aronson SC ’18 said. “I would like to break into the art world myself, and this brings deeper meaning to being a female artist.” 

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