Last week, the Glasgow Women’s Library received an interesting new addition to its collection of resources on women’s art. The arrival of self-authored Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls’ Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes provided an excellent opportunity to celebrate the achievements of these revolutionary art-activists and to revisit the Library’s own existing collection of Guerrilla Girls artefacts.
When the Museum of Modern Art’s 1984 International Survey of Painting and Sculpture exhibition inadvertently revealed the art world’s severe under-representation of women and ethnic minority artists, it resulted in the formation of the Guerrilla Girls. Referring to themselves as “the conscience of the art world”, this group of anonymous women artists sought to raise public awareness of the imbalance and consequently, to put it to rest. Disguising their identities with gorilla masks and adopting the names of famous female figures, the Guerrilla Girls began targeting discriminatory institutions through the medium of posters and stickers, using witty language and
provocative statistics to command attention. In examples such as The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist, “working without the pressure of success” and “being included in revised versions of art history” are ironically cited as some of the benefits experienced by women artists. In Do Women Have to be Naked to get into the Met Museum? the issue of the discrimination of female artists is made all the more striking by its juxtaposition with that of the exploitation of the female form as the subject of art. And the issue of racial discrimination is tackled by the Guerrilla Girls in a similarly tactful way. We Sell White Bread, boldly printed in contrasting black and white, makes clear the art world’s preference for white over non-white and ethnic minority artists. The reference to plain white bread implies a lack of versatility and imagination on the part of the institutions.
The work of the Guerrilla Girls has been, and continues to be instrumental in raising awareness of discrimination within the art world, and although women and ethnic minority artists still do not experience the same level of success as white males, statistics show a significant improvement over the past thirty years. As the work of the Guerrilla Girls continues on today, the prospect of equal opportunity within the art world, and indeed beyond, becomes increasingly tangible. Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls’ Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes, which details some of the negative societal conventions that have inspired the Guerrilla Girls’ cause, is available at the Glasgow Women’s Library. The Guerrilla Girls posters contained within the archive are also open to the public upon request. If you would like to arrange to see these, please contact the Glasgow Women’s Library.