The last time I saw my Grandma Treacy she asked me (from her hospital bed) about an essay I had just written about “women writers” for a class at St Kate’s. She was annoyed because I didn’t see why we had to differentiate between men and women writers. “It’s like writing about yellow chairs!” I insisted. In my defense I was 18. My grandma obviously knew better.
At about just that time I was insisting there was no need for feminism, the Guerrilla Girls were curating their first all women show. So they didn’t start at the beginning of the feminist movement nor did they start at the end, for better or for worse they are part of an ongoing effort that is taking generations!
The Guerrilla Girls are a group of women who wear gorilla masks, take on the names of dead women artists and perform (usually) unsolicited Public Service Announcements around in the world highlighting the sexism and racism in art and other sectors. PSAs take the form of posters, billboards, talks and takeovers. They have been in the Twin Cities for about a month raising awareness.
They landed on January 21 with events at The Walker, MIA and Minneapolis College of Art and Design. There is an exhibit at The Walker. At MIA they audited the collection – all 900,000 items to some embarrassing results and have used that data in their local exhibitions. (Fair play to MIA for participating!) MCAD hosted a show called and had GRRRL Party in to perform. A week ago they hosted a presentation and Q & A at the State Theatre; I brought my 11 year old, which helped frame for me the generational nature of the effort.
It started with a few songs by Chastity Brown. We love her; she was great. The presentation was informative – my preteen was enthralled and incensed at the discrepancy between men and women. For example, of the top 100 works of art sold in the last year, how many were done by women? None. The Guerrilla Girls call out art as the fourth largest black market. Private art buyers sit on board of public art galleries, helping to set the prices based on future exhibitions and proposed purchases. They are in a position to stack the deck – and they are stacking it male.
The Guerrilla Girls use humor to get into the brain of offenders and those who stand by and watch. “Only by getting into their brain can you change their mind” they said. It was all interesting but the most interesting part of the night came from a questioner.
After the presentation attendees were invited to ask questions – one young African American woman asked about diversity among the Guerilla Girls. Her point being that Guerrilla Girls weren’t doing enough to embrace, encourage or represent minorities. I think her points were valid – but I also think she knew what she wanted to say before the presentation and she didn’t hear the part about getting into someone’s brain to change their mind. She was antagonistic. Their answer was unsatisfactory; really they seemed unprepared for the question. It was an awkward standoff of women who should be on the same page.
My 11 year old also asked a question too, “How can I bring the Guerrilla Girl message to the sixth grade.” They told her that she need to make the message her own. She should talk to her classmates about what spoke to them and use that.
That is the answer they should have given to the other questioner. The Guerrilla Girls have been building a platform for 30 years. They should have invited the questioner into the group or at least made her privy to the platform and she should have said yes (to group or platform). They sort of did – but not as boldly as they should have.
Things have changed in 30 years because of efforts from groups like the Guerrilla Girls and to effect further change the group needs to embrace, encourage and represent new agents to spearhead change, but in return the new change agents need to appreciate and choose at least some lessons to learn from those who have built the road before them.
Societal change will continue to be generational! We need to take on new challenges but we can never let our guard down on past success.