October 7, 2002

Guerilla Girls Come to Cornell

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After 18 years as the self-proclaimed “conscience of the art world,” the Guerilla Girls performed to an almost sold-out Call Auditorium in Kennedy Hall on Friday night.

“I cannot tell you how scared I was that we would sign up Kennedy auditorium with its 600 seats and 30 people would be there,” said Prof. Sandra Bem, director of feminist, gender and sexuality studies (FGSS), in her opening remarks.

The performers, who are also artists, were two of the founding members of the group. They wore gorilla masks and used pseudonyms of famous artists, such as Frida Kahlo, to preserve their anonymity. On Sunday, they ran a workshop for some students who are seriously involved in the FGSS department. According to workshop attendees, they did not even take off their masks during that seven-hour session.

Playing on their gorilla motif, the two performers began the Friday night presentation by swooping down the aisles, handing out bananas and saying hello to the audience. They read a few quotes from letters they have received along with quotes from Aristotle and Martin Luther on the merits of female artists, or lack thereof.

The group is known for the controversial posters they have hung all over the country, especially in New York City. A slide show of some of their posters made up the bulk of their performance.

“When sexism and racism are no longer fashionable, what will your art collection be worth?” asked one poster.

Another poster listed, “the advantages of being a woman artist.” Things listed included, “not having to be in shows with men … not being stuck in tenured teaching positions … being included in revised versions of art history,” and “getting your picture in the art magazines wearing a gorilla suit.”

The Guerilla Girls sold copies of this poster outside the auditorium before and after the show.

Another displayed poster attacked Hollywood. “The U.S. Senate is more progressive than Hollywood, Female Senators: 13 percent, Female Directors: 4 percent,” it read.

The group’s popular website includes other information and materials about their mission along with merchandise.

One of their online products is a poster that advises, “If you’re raped, you might as well ‘relax and enjoy it’ because no one will believe you.”

The performers concluded the event with a question and answer session, during which one student noticed that the early Guerilla Girl posters looked similar to the early ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) activism posters of the same mid-1980s period. She asked if they had some of the same artists working on them.

“They’ll never know,” responded one of the Guerilla Girls.

The Guerilla Girls have published their own art history book, The Guerilla Girls’ Bedside Companions to the History of Western Art, the second chapter of which is comically titled “Hot Flashes from the Middle Ages.”

Their current projects include two more books. Bitches, Bimbos, and Ball-Breakers is about stereotypes and The Guerilla Girls’ Guide to New York City Museums will be in comic book form.

At the end of the performance, Kelly Connison, director of the Women’s Resource Center said the event “exceeded our expectations.”

She hopes the Guerilla Girls brought, “more awareness about women and people of color in the art world and let people know that feminism can be fun.”

The event was a joint production sponsored by FGSs and the Women’s Resource Center.

Archived article by Freda Ready