Guerrilla Girls Part 2: Heroes of the Past and Present,
An Interview with the Guerrilla Girls
By Jacqueline Bell Johnson
In conjunction with their exhibition Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Art World & Beyond, at California State University San Bernardino, the Guerrilla Girls gave a talk on campus. The talk presented their history, some of the statistics they have uncovered, and insights on standing up and speaking out. Afterward, CSUSB hosted a reception that allowed the audience to get selfies, chat, and share stories with the GG. You could see smiles everywhere as people mingled with these “art stars.” But it’s not fame that had everyone gushing. It’s the inspiration, the ingenious tactics, the bravery of calling out of those in power. They are badasses of legend. And they are still fighting.
We were able to chat with Kathe Kollwitz (not her real name) of the Guerrilla Girls and asked a few questions about what’s ahead.
Jacqueline Bell Johnson: Congratulations on the success with the Uffizi Gallery. (Find out about that here.) In general, do you find Europe more responsive to your tactics than American Museums?
Guerilla Girls: No. We see it in the US, too. Last year we made a video that was shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It examined the museum’s collection and practices. We met with museum curators — and asked tough questions about native artists, trans artists, African American artists, Somali artists, Hmong artists, and women artists. One of those curators is now the director of the Uffizi, and the video we did altered his thinking. There are many people inside museums who want to see their institutions tell the whole story of art, not just the white male part, but it’s hard to overcome centuries of discrimination. It’s a slow process.
JBJ: There is a piece in the Cal State gallery that invites participation. Are there plans to make upcoming projects dialogue-based, more inclusive, or granting agency to individuals outside of the Guerilla girls?
GG: We’re complainers — creative complainers — and often our street and museum projects give people a place to complain along with us. The Guerrilla Girls Complaints Department at Tate Modern last fall is just one example. This summer, we’re doing public participatory projects in Quito and Brazil. In the fall, we’ll have a 50-meter-long anti-war banner outside a military history museum in Dresden, Germany. And starting May 1, Guerrilla Girls’ posters will transform a street in Bologna as part of the Cheap Art Festival.
JBJ: Do you consider yourselves artists primarily, or activists?
GG: Luckily, we don’t have to choose.
JBJ: Any thoughts, insights, or predictions on the current political climate in the U.S.? Are you seeing such regression in Europe and elsewhere abroad?
GG: We see billionaires, oligarchs, and conservative authoritarians exerting undue influence over politics and culture in many countries. This is dire for the rest of us.
JBJ: Since you have started back in the early eighties, to now, how would you rate the progress that has been made? Has there been progress?
GG: There has been progress, but we also learned a lesson about activism: Don’t let yourself be paralyzed demoralized because you can’t change everything. Just do one thing. If it works, do another. If it doesn’t, do another anyway. It all adds up over time.
JBJ: Do you ever find that the fame and notoriety of being the Guerrilla Girls gets in the way of the cause?
GG: Not yet. Our notoriety these days helps our work get seen, which in turn helps us change people’s minds about issues of discrimination and corruption. We hear from thousands of people all over the world, of every age, background and gender, telling us that our work is inspiring them to do their own crazy, creative kind of activism. That means so much to us. We still get angry letters as well, of course.
JBJ: You have started taking on other industries that also have problems with representation… film and music… Do you see the Guerrilla Girls expanding to tackle industries like academia or STEM fields?
GG: We have been taking on the film industry for almost 20 years, and will continue to document its bad behavior. As for music, we have done one or two projects, but we want to do more. That goes for Academia, STEM and many other fields, too. The Guerrilla Girls take on issues we care about, but we never put anything out there unless we think it has the power to make a difference. There are so many issues we just haven’t been able to come up with the right thing for. There’s so much left to do.
The exhibition Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Art World & Beyond will remain on view until May 20, 2017 at the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art, 5500 University Pkwy, San Bernardino, California 92407. http://museum.csusb.edu/
Reach out to the Guerrilla Girls and follow their projects here: