Walking down the street, seeing a group of women walking with gorilla masks on, placing posters all over a city isn’t a typical site. At first glance, it may look silly, but these women aren’t monkeying around. Behind these masks are feminist, activist artists known as the Guerrilla Girls, who have been bringing attention to the inequalities of the art world for decades.
The famous group visited The Plains last week, when Frida Kahlo, a founding member, came to Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art in honor of the 125th year of women at Auburn University.
In order to keep their personal lives private, the Guerrilla Girls use pseudonyms of deceased female artists whose legacies they hope to continue.
“We chose ‘guerrilla’ because that stands for freedom fighters,” Frida Kahlo said. “People give gorillas a demeaning and negative connotation, therefore, we chose to use gorilla masks to hide our identity.”
The Guerilla Girls have launched campaigns to increase female representation in art since 1985.
"Do women have to be naked to get in the Met. Museum?" one of the group's most famous works reads. "Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female."
A question, followed by a statistic is how the Guerrilla Girls work. They draw in their audience and provide them with a truth that is not publicized in the art world or society as a whole. The group also tackles issues of racial discrimination in the art world.
To spread their messages to the public, humor and outrageous visuals help expose sexist and racist stereotypes as well as corruption found in art, film, pop culture and politics.
“Over the years, there has definitely been a change in college student’s viewpoints,” Frida Kahlo said. “We enjoy going to universities because students are the future. In our early years, our audience of students did not believe us at all and would question why we were trying to fight the system. They did not believe there was prejudice in the art world. But now, there is so much enthusiasm about changing the art world.”
Having completed over 100 street projects and posters all over the world highlighting various forms of inequality, the group has attempted to undermine the mainstream narrative by revealing the understory, the subtext, the overlooked and the unfair.
Despite wearing a mask, Frida Kahlo said it is not always easy to escape everyday problems. When asked what has been the biggest challenge she has faced as a woman, she chuckled and responded, “How much time do you have?”
Frida Kahlo said that after graduating from university, she realized she wouldn't have the same opportunities as her male counterparts. Even
The art market seen at art museums today has a focus on wealth and power, she said, which leads to a focus on the money rather than the artwork. Words that surround and describe art create a patriarchal hierarchy, Frida Kahlo said, which leaves women at the bottom.
During her speech, Frida Kahlo emphasized listening to those around you, especially those with different backgrounds.
“We need more men as feminists,” she said. “Today, we are seeing people in power talk more than listen, and that results in no effective change."
Her personal, growing commitment to diversity and acceptance is essential and something that she continues to work on and fight for.
As Auburn continues to celebrate the 125 years of white women being accepted to the University, Frida Kahlo asked attendees to continue to fight the good fight like the pioneering trio of women that set the way at Auburn University in 1892.