Art Night 2021: An interview with the Guerrilla Girls

Two figures are photographed standing against a wall which is daubed with colourful graffiti. The figures are dressed in dark clothing and each is wearing a fancy dress style gorilla mask
Guerrilla Girls. Courtesy the Artists

This summer, Art Night is expanding out of London and across the country, taking place in locations from Skye to Eastbourne and from Derry to Abergavanny, at a range of sites, including billboards, country parks, train stations, and on an island. 

Art Night commissions will also be broadcast online, for 48 hours on Tuesday and Fridays throughout the festival at https://artnight.london a marathon evening on 15 July where all commissions will be shown in partnership with Somerset House and on the platforms of many Art Night Partners.

A major part of the programme that will be shown across the country is a series of billboards by the Guerrilla Girls as part of their new commission titled The Male Graze – their largest UK public project to date and which will explore bad male behaviour through the lens of art history. The work, delivered in partnership with Jack Arts, will launch in Eastbourne, Dundee, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Cardiff, Warwick, Swansea and will be on display from 18 June to 18 July in partnership with Art Night’s friends Compton Verney, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Glasgow Women’s Library, g39, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Grand Union, The Tetley and Towner Eastbourne. Art Night will also present this commission in two London sites in Shoreditch and London Bridge. The commission includes an online gig on 26 June,  and a website where the public can count up and share the gender imbalance in their local collections with the Guerrilla Girls, highlighting the sexual violence implicit in art history from a British context. 


Could you tell us a little about who you are and your work?

The Guerrilla Girls are anonymous artist-activists who use disruptive headlines, outrageous visuals, and killer statistics to expose gender and ethnic bias and corruption in art, film, politics, and pop culture. They believe in an intersectional feminism that fights for human rights for all people and all genders. They undermine the idea of a mainstream narrative by revealing the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, and the downright unfair. They have done hundreds of street projects all over the world as well as interventions and exhibitions blasting museums on their own walls for their discriminatory practices. The Guerrilla Girls’ motto: Do one thing. If it works, do another. If it doesn’t, do another anyway. Keep chipping away. Creative complaining works!

Can you tell us a little bit about the project that is coming to Art Night – what is shown on the billboards? Why?

We are asking UK viewers to go to museums, do a count of naked women vs women artists on exhibition and post their findings and comments on themalegraze.com. On this website, we will also examine the real-life bad behavior of many beloved artists who not only “gazed” on women in their work but “grazed” on them in their real lives. 

What Art historians call The Male Gaze, the masculine, heterosexual perspective in European and American art mostly by white men that depicts women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer, the Guerrilla Girls call The Male Graze. Lots of women are naked in post-colonial western art. Some are idle: sleeping, splayed out on beds and couches, lounging around with their friends, bathing, and maybe even dancing. When active, there is usually a sexual element present:  voyeurism, seduction, harassment, assault, rape, and sometimes murder. When we looked into how some revered male artists used and abused women in their real lives, we saw a lot of grazing, not just gazing. So we want to ask: does art imitate life or life imitate art

If people can’t see the billboards, how else can they engage with the work? 

We will post photos of all the billboards on themalegraze.com. 

Have you shown in the UK before? How does this differ? 

We have done exhibitions and projects in the UK many times including at Tate Modern, Whitechapel Gallery, the V&A, Amar Singh Gallery, and Yoko Ono’s Meltdown festival. This is the first UK-wide project. 

Where else can we see your work, do you have any other projects coming up, or publications we can read?

Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly, published by Chronicle Books in 2020, is the first book to document our hundreds of street and museum projects all over the world, and to tell the story of our invention of a new kind of political art.

Covid has caused postponements, but we expect to be back on the road doing talks, projects, and exhibitions very soon.

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