Who Run The World?

Emmilyn Yeoh speaks to Zubeida Agha of Guer­rilla Girls on di­ver­sity, and dis­cusses how this group of fem­i­nist ac­tivists are bring­ing gen­der and cul­tural bias to the fore through imag­i­na­tive posters.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Contents - Pres­i­dent Trump An­nounces New Com­mem­o­ra­tive Months, 2016, Guer­rilla Girls

fem­i­nism—a term that holds so much weight, es­pe­cially in re­cent times, when the #MeToo and #TimesUp move­ments are giv­ing tor­mented women courage and sup­port to fi­nally speak up about per­sonal en­coun­ters of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, while shin­ing the spot­light on so­cial inequal­ity. Within this dis­course of male ver­sus fe­male, black ver­sus white, Guer­rilla Girls, an anony­mous fem­i­nist art col­lec­tive made up of ac­tivists that go by pseu­do­nyms, has de­voted to chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo through state­ment posters. Us­ing names such as “Frida Kahlo” and “Zubeida Agha” to iden­tify them­selves, the group has been fight­ing against dis­crim­i­na­tion of fe­male artists and artists of colour since 1985. But is any­one lis­ten­ing, or bet­ter yet, act­ing on right­ing the wrongs of gen­der im­bal­ance? Tak­ing it be­yond art, the facts and sta­tis­tics of fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion also make up the driv­ing force of this col­lec­tive. The Guer­rilla Girls are no strangers to con­tro­versy, and the choice to re­main anony­mous, by wear­ing a go­rilla mask and us­ing pseu­do­nyms of iconic artists, keeps the at­ten­tion on their long pur­suit of univer­sal ac­cep­tance and fe­male rights. What does “di­ver­sity” mean to Guer­rilla Girls? Is it just about in­creas­ing the num­ber of fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in art mu­se­ums and ar­chives? No, it’s def­i­nitely much more than that. It’s about mak­ing sure our cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions re­flect the com­mu­nity. Gen­der, race, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tus, dif­fer­ing abil­i­ties—all these fac­tors af­fect di­ver­sity. We are fight­ing for every­one to be rep­re­sented. The his­tory of cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions will be in­com­plete oth­er­wise. Is pub­lic in­clu­siv­ity a big part of the work of Guer­rilla Girls? Al­ways. Our work be­gan on the street, and driv­ing change in­volves ev­ery­body, re­gard­less of the com­mu­nity. We want to talk to the pub­lic, and not just the rar­i­fied art world. The so­cial norms won’t change un­less the peo­ple de­mand it. What sort of change does Guer­rilla Girls hope to see in the arts in­dus­try, in the near fu­ture? What changes has the group con­trib­uted to in the past 10 to 20 years? We will be bold and claim some credit for chal­leng­ing the no­tion that the art world is a mer­i­toc­racy. Every­one now un­der­stands that there are sys­tem­atic ob­sta­cles for every­one and that white men are priv­i­leged in the sys­tem. The con­ver­sa­tion about

di­ver­sity in the art world has changed, but sadly, the num­bers haven’t caught up. While men still get more pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties, and the grow­ing in­flu­ence of big money ex­ac­er­bates this, we’d like to see real di­ver­sity in our cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions, and for art to cease be­ing the play­thing and in­vest­ment tool of the su­per-wealthy. Guer­rilla Girls has protested at con­tem­po­rary art fairs such as Art Basel Hong Kong and crit­i­cised renowned in­sti­tu­tions. Has the group al­ways been so vo­cal from the start? How do you choose your au­di­ence? We have al­ways been di­rect and in-your-face. Our first few posters that ap­peared on the streets of NYC overnight, named names, pointed fin­gers, and made lots of peo­ple in the art world un­com­fort­able. It’s not our style to be dis­creet and po­lite. We choose our tar­gets, and we find a way to make our­selves heard. We are not afraid to make crit­i­cal state­ments that are un­for­get­table to who­ever is lis­ten­ing. What is a defin­ing mo­ment for Guer­rilla Girls in the past 33 years? There have been so many mo­ments, it would be hard to pick one, and I’m sure each mem­ber would pick a dif­fer­ent mo­ment. But we would all agree that hu­mour has been the key to our suc­cess. You can’t just point at some­thing and say, “this is bad”. You have to do more; you have to take the mes­sage and twist it so it be­comes mem­o­rable. If you can make some­one who dis­agrees with you laugh, you have a hook in their brain and a bet­ter chance of con­vinc­ing them. As con­tem­po­rary artists, how do you all re­late to women painters from past cen­turies? Does art his­tory in­form the work of Guer­rilla Girls? We are com­mit­ted to de­mand­ing that art his­tory be as di­verse as the cul­ture whose story it claims to write. Oth­er­wise, it’s not a rich, com­plete his­tory. There have al­ways been women artists—just be­cause the aca­demics and royal courts didn’t cham­pion them doesn’t mean women weren’t mak­ing art. Art his­to­ri­ans need to work harder. We need to ce­ment a place for women in art his­tory. What is one mes­sage that the world should hear from Guer­rilla Girls? Don’t let mu­se­ums re­duce art to the small num­ber of artists who have won a pop­u­lar­ity con­test among big time deal­ers, cu­ra­tors, and col­lec­tors. If mu­se­ums don’t show art as di­verse as the cul­tures they claim to rep­re­sent, tell them they are not show­ing the his­tory of art, they are just pre­serv­ing the his­tory of wealth and power. www.guer­ril­la­girls.com

Go­ril­las, a big and pow­er­ful sym­bol of the Guer­rilla Girls

Don­ning go­rilla masks in pub­lic—just one of the many ways Guerilla Girls is re­claim­ing fe­male sex­u­al­ity

The Ad­van­tages of Be­ing a Woman Artist, 1988, Guer­rilla Girls

Fly-post­ing is also a com­mon vis­ual lan­guage used by Guer­rilla Girls

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