guerrilla gorilla

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5 Women Artists—Archives Edition

Selections from the Getty Research Institute’s collections :

Barbara T. Smith—A performance- and installation-art pioneer. Her work explores concepts that strike at the core of human nature, including sexuality, spirituality, and death. 

The Guerrilla Girls—An anonymous feminist protest group that confronts discrimination against women artists and artists of color in the art world and tackles broader social issues. 

Harmony Hammond—A trailblazing feminist, lesbian, and queer artist whose work aims to “break down the distinctions between painting and sculpture, between art and women’s work, and between art in craft and craft in art.”

Marcia Tucker—An influential curator of painting and sculpture at the Whitney Museum of American Art and founder of the New Museum of Contemporary Art. At the New Museum she organized key exhibitions such as Bad Paintings (1978) and Bad Girls (1994)

Joanie 4 Jackie—A feminist video project started by filmmaker, artist, and writer Miranda July in 1995. These chain-letter videos, started during the Riot Grrrl movement, aimed to create a generation of female film makers in a pre-YouTube era. 

Feminism and fluff : an overview

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, let’s take a second to remember the seasonly lingerie promos we received and the lectures we heard from that one teacher. We’ve all been there, as, this month, everyone around us jumped on the woman’s history bandwagon… Naturally, Artnimals just had to chirp in at the last minute. So what does animal art have to do with women’s history, exactly ? Well, actually… everything.

To rest the case of animal art being feminist as f, let us reminisce the good old times when sexism was even more of a pain in the (insert cat emoji here). Things aren’t perfect now, but back in the day, the art field was really a man’s world… And women were barely aloud to paint or sculpt anything. Vasari, a Renaissance painter and art historian, reportedly said « Men create, women procreate ». Sadly, that about summed it up for everyone.

On top of that, art followed a strict hierarchy. While the depiction of human actions (think portraits and historical scenes) was highly praised, the representation of animals was regarded as a lower art form. Women weren’t easily accepted into the academies that controlled the art world… and weren’t always allowed to represent men (that would just be obscene !), or use live models (once again, OB-SCENE I SAY). So, it was just simpler to represent their furry friends. That’s why many women expressed their creativity by picturing animals. Here are three examples of badass female artists who didn’t give a damn about artistic standards.

Let’s start with French painter and sculptor Rosa Bonheur (1822 - 1899).

In 1851, her career was propelled as the public went crazy for her painting The Horse Fair. Her work was so good that a critic wrote “It’s really a man’s painting : edgy, solid, and frank.”… As if a woman couldn’t have made such a masterpiece !

Later, the writer and critic Theophile Gautier said “With Miss Rosa Bonheur, there’s no need for chivalry : she makes art seriously, and you can treat her as if she were a man.” In a very misogynistic era, Rosa managed to be seen as an equal.

In her time, it was forbidden for a woman to wear pants… But as they were more practical than big skirts to look around for inspiration in the animal trade shows, she was one of the only women to be allowed to dress like a man !

Louise Bourgeois (1911 - 2010) was another powerful and empowering artist. And, yes, that’s her posing with a giant penis

Louise Bourgeois is most famous for her sculptures of giant spiders. I know it may look scary and gross… but this work actually celebrates female creativity and strength. Bear with me.

The artist explains that the spider represents her mother. « She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother weaved. My family worked in the restauration of tapestries and my mother was in charge of the studio. And, like spiders, my mother was very smart. Spiders are friendly presences that devour mosquitos. As we all know, mosquitos spread diseases and are harmful. Therefore, spiders are beneficial and protective, just like my mother was. »

Finally, no article about art, animals, and feminism would be complete without mentioning the Guerrilla Girls (1984 - today).

The Guerrilla Girls are a group of female artists who wear gorilla masks (guerrilla - gorilla… get it ? It’s punny !). They create posters, books, and performances that deal with sexism and racism.

It all started in 1984, when the exhibit titled « An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture » opened at the Met Museum. Although the show was advertised as an accurate overview of the art world… out of 169 artists, only 13 were women. And all of them were white ! As should have been expected, a lot of female artists were offended by the lack of diversity, and gathered to form the group now snowed as the Guerrilla Girls.

« We joined a long tradition of (mostly male) masked avengers like Robin Hood, Batman, The Lone Ranger, and Wonder Woman. »

One poster at a time, the Guerrilla Girls prove that feminists do have a sense of humor, after all !