A Walk through the Tate #22
10 of 30 images from the Guerrilla Girls’ Guerrilla Girls Talk Back series, 1985-1990, screenprints on paper, various dimensions.
Since their inception in 1984 the Guerrilla Girls have been working to expose sexual and racial discrimination in the art world, particularly in New York, and in the wider cultural arena. The group’s members protect their identities by wearing gorilla masks in public and by assuming pseudonyms taken from such deceased famous female figures as the writer Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) and the artist Frida Kahlo (1907-54). They formed in response to the International Survey of Painting and Sculpture held in 1984 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The exhibition included the work of 169 artists, less than 10% of whom were women. Although female artists had played a central role in experimental American art of the 1970s, with the economic boom of the early 1980s in which artwork prices rose steeply, their presence in museum and gallery exhibitions diminished dramatically. Dubbing themselves the ‘conscience of the art world’, in 1985 the Guerrilla Girls began a poster campaign that targeted museums, dealers, curators, critics and artists who they felt were actively responsible for, or complicit in, the exclusion of women and non-white artists from mainstream exhibitions and publications.
Like American artists Barbara Kruger (born 1945) and Jenny Holzer (born 1950), the Guerrilla Girls appropriated the visual language of advertising, specifically fly-posting, to convey their messages in a quick and accessible manner. They pasted up their first posters on SoHo streets in the middle of the night. Combining bold block text with lists and statistics that were compiled by the Girls themselves or reinterpreted from existing sources such as art magazines and museum reports, the posters named New York galleries that showed no more than 10% women artists and listed successful male artists who allowed their work to be shown in galleries showing little or no work by women. Other posters, such as ‘We Sell White Bread’ (1987), first appeared as peel-off stickers on gallery windows and doors, while the 1989 poster that asked ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?’ first appeared as an advertisement on New York City buses. With such posters as ‘Relax Senator Helms, the Art World is your kind of place (1989) the Girls used wit and irony to point a critical finger at double standards prevalent in the art world and elsewhere.
The group gradually widened their focus, tackling issues of racial discrimination in the art world and also made more direct, politicised interventions. They organized forums at the Cooper Union where critics, curators and dealers could tell their side of the story (1986), inserted flyers inside the covers of all the books in the Guggenheim Museum’s bookstore, and, concurrently with the 1987 Whitney Biennial, made an exhibition of information exposing the museum’s poor record on exhibiting women and artists of colour. In 1992, at the opening of the Guggenheim Museum SoHo, after instigating a postcard-writing campaign attacking the museum for proposing to show only white male artists, they organized a demonstration, handing out bags with gorilla heads printed on them for protesters to wear over their heads. To date they have produced more than ninety posters, three books, numerous stickers and other printed projects and have undertaken actions about discrimination in art, film and politics. They make presentations and run workshops at schools, museums and various organisations. Their individual identities are always concealed behind the signature gorilla masks.
rape culture is portraying sexually active 12 year olds on talk shows as sluts instead of wondering who the fuck is having sex with 12 year olds
A group of young sisters educated by the Black Panthers.
vogue germany january 1999 “lichte visionen” oluchi onweagba photographed by ruven afanador
Monument to Ideas
In collaboration with Chalayan, Marcus Tomlinson made a film of the dress that was first shown at the Hyères festival in France in May 1999. In the film, the panels of the dress slid open and shut as the model spun round like a mechanical top, at first slowly and then gathering speed, before slowing down and coming to rest again, her rate of acceleration and deceleration mimicking the experience of aeroplanes taking off and coming in to land. The film was accompanied by an atmospheric soundtrack of a muezzin’s call to prayer combined with the sound of a propellor building up speed, a soundtrack that combined the ‘no place’ of airports and jet travel with the specificity of older cultural forms. Chalayan, who grew up in North Cyprus where the muezzin played all the time, and found the sound of the call to prayer both beautiful and ‘slightly scary’, was struck by the combination of a threatening image with a beautiful thing in the background. Made at a time when, as the designer was aware, parts of Iraq were being bombed by Western planes enforcing the ‘No Fly Zones’ in the north and the south, Chalayan’s soundtrack gestured beyond fashion to subjects it normally eschews.
Marcus Tomlinson, film of Hussein Chalayan’s Aeroplane dress, 1999. Film stills courtesy of Marcus Tomlinson.
Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness by Caroline Evans, Yale University Press