In the packed Lindquist Lecture Hall of the Kimball Visual Arts Building, two women wearing gorilla masks spoke about the lack of equality for women and ethnic groups in the art world.
To begin their presentation, the two masked speakers, using the pseudonyms Kathe Kollwitz and Frida Kahlo, handed around bananas. They read several anti-feminist quotes from famous public figures, including male artists and art critics. One quote by impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir read, “I consider women doctors, lawyers and politicians nothing but monsters and the worst by far. The woman activist is merely ridiculous. But I am in favor of the female singer and dancer.”
According to the group’s website, the Guerrilla Girls go out as the self-proclaimed “conscience of culture” and “declare ourselves feminist counterparts to the mostly male tradition of anonymous do-gooders like Robin Hood, Batman and the Lone Ranger.”
Aimed at preventing and attacking inequality in the arts and media, the Guerrilla Girls began as a group of artists working at night, papering the streets of New York City with facts about the inequality between men and women in the art industry. Over the years, the group has continued to point out inequality in the largest and most prestigious museums around the world, as well as in Hollywood and the film industry.
According to the group’s website, the Guerrilla Girls “use humor to convey information, provoke discussion, and show that feminists can be funny.” Another point about the group is that all members are completely anonymous, so that the focus remains on the message of the artists and not on the artists themselves.
One of the presenters, one of the two original Guerilla Girls still active with the group under Kahlo’s name, said that for her, the most important part of being a Guerrilla Girl is having the chance to change people’s minds and enlighten them as to ideas they may not have experienced before.
“I love to see people’s minds changed,” Kahlo said. “I love to see people transformed; I love to see people realize things all of the sudden, that light bulb going off in their heads and they say, ‘Yeah, yeah!’”
Kahlo also said that one thing she encourages in society is questioning information and press for personal understanding rather than blind obedience.
“I think it’s necessary to question everything,” she said. “We need to realize that we make decisions every day and not to accept what’s spoon-fed to us by the world as it is. The world is always evolving, our lives are evolving, and we need to speak up about what we think is true and fair.”
Katie Lee-Koven, the director for the Shaw Gallery in the Kimball Visual Arts Building, said she hopes this lecture will encourage discussion in classrooms on campus.
“I hope that (the presentation) will spur some conversation in the classrooms about female artists and artists of ethnic diversity and make students think more about who they are and where they come from and how they fit into these systems and how they can work within or change those systems,” she said.
Madonne Miner, the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, also attended the lecture. She said the Guerrilla Girls “delight me . . . The Guerrilla Girls do such a good job at providing factual information about the representation of women in art galleries, in museums and in art in general. I think that they’re really creative, funny and bright.”
Many members of both genders were in attendance. Rachel Posadas, a student studying visual communications with an emphasis in graphic design, said she walked away from the presentation feeling motivated and inspired.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I really enjoyed their ideas and how they share that and express themselves. It was interesting, and it inspires me.”
Forrest Heiner, a Weber State University alumnus in design graphics, said that while he thoroughly enjoyed their presentation, he would have preferred to hear more about the work the Guerrilla Girls are doing in art and less about politics.
“I enjoyed hearing their perspective, but I think it could’ve been more about the art rather than the politics,” he said. “I liked the message, because I’ve always thought that there is a lot of imbalance in the showings of minorities and women. But it could’ve had a better balance.”