During my previous work I have always found that I produce the best art when I focus on issues that I resonate with. I have been looking at what kind of boundaries I personally face within the list that I made of different types of boundaries.
I realised that as an artist and a woman my presence in the art industry would be harder to establish than a male artist. It is commonly known that the art industry in dominated mainly by men and I feel that the best way to tackle this boundary is to make a piece of art that pushes it, both literally and conceptually.
Whilst I was researching the female presence in the art industry I came across an artist collective that I had known for their controversial feminist artwork – The Guerrilla Girls.
The Guerrilla Girls are a collective of anonymous women who tackle the lack of women and people of colour in the art world through the use of blunt and unignorable work, using facts and statistics and personally targeting organisations and institutions that are not inclusive of art created by women and POC.
The collective began as two friends, who have since recruited other members. The exact number of artists in the group is ever fluctuating, but was said to have reached around 30 artists in the 80’s. In 1989 they went to the Metropolitan Museum and counted the number of female artists and the number of nude females displayed within the gallery. The comparison was the 5% of the artists displayed in the gallery were women, whereas 85% of the nudity displayed in the work was women.
The women within the collective refused to be known for who they were, but instead chose to give themselves aliases of female artists before them, such as Frida Khalo and Käthe Kollwitz – the founding members, hoping this way the legacy of these female artists would be carried on.
This particular piece is one that has been displayed in galleries and on billboards, as well as having widely circulated the internet. A side by side comparison shows the number of women who had one person exhibitions at New York City museums in the last year. The first piece, white with bold black text shows that only one museum had an exhibition solely by a female artist in 1985. The second piece shows the first piece with a black background and white text. The design is identical however the 1985 figures have been crossed out in a red pen-style font, and replaced with the figures from 2015 – 30 years later. This shows that in the 30 year gap all of the galleries have only have one more woman led solo exhibition each, a total of five in 30 years. This statistic was a shocking figure when all of the museums held multiple exhibitions per year. By creating a side by side comparison it presents the viewer with a neutral piece of information, leaving them to decide if what the information shows bothers them. It was also designed to call out these museums, and dared them to retaliate, to explain themselves.
I feel that this piece particularly resonated with the masses because it seems as if women’s rights in this USA and the UK particularly have advanced so much over the past 30 years, and that is well known across the world. However this piece argues with that fact, asking people if we’ve really advanced in terms of rights, as much as we think we have?
(Image source: https://wedompls.org/urban-projects/guerrilla-girls/)
The Guerrilla Girls presented their challenging findings in public places such as billboards, so that the facts could not be censored or more importantly, ignored. By asking provocative questions even passersby wouldn’t be able to help wondering the answer, and by getting through to the masses was how the Guerrilla Girls message was supposed to spend. Tag lining themselves as the ‘Conscience of the Art World’ their opinions and messages resonated with every artist who had ever struggled to get themselves out there because of their gender, skin colour, or any other characteristic – physical or otherwise.
I feel that this blunt and engaging way of displaying their findings really captivated people emotionally, and I feel that in my piece I would like to produce something that is engaging in a way that it’s message is unignorable.
What inspiration am I taking from this work?
Looking into the world of the Guerrilla Girls has really made me see how effective an unsympathetic campaign can be; by approaching the issue head on, and without at all sugarcoating any of their facts and figures, the work became very well known and later on as the internet became more popular, the work went viral.
By collecting facts and figures the work could not be argued with, and although not everyone agreed with them the issue gained traction and became a huge part of a movement to provide equal access to women within the art world. This type of bold and forward communication is something I’d like to carry on into my work.
Overall from this work, I am inspired not to be shy about the issue I want to communicate, and not to convey it in too subtler of a manner. I am also inspired by a medium that isn’t photography; the Guerrilla Girls have made some engaging work using collage and graphic design.