The provocative and rallying “Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Art World and Beyond” art exhibit debuted at the Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery last Thursday. This is just the beginning of the Guerrilla Girls takeover of Fairfield. The exhibit consists of a series of posters with illustrations and statistics that expose the truths of social injustices women face in art and society.

The idea of the Guerrilla Girls first started in 1985 by a group of female artists who were shocked to find out that the Museum of Modern Art sponsored an art gallery show of 187 artists, but only 17 of the artists chosen were women. Today, the Guerrilla Girls mix in a little humor with the truth to invoke some of the past and present gender social, and political inequalities throughout art’s history. They deliver worldwide speeches wearing gorilla masks to protect their anonymity and to create controversial films, books and artwork.

Dr. Philip Eliasoph of the art history department expressed, “Fairfield students would be amazed, even shocked to see the big art history textbook I used in my freshman year. The giant tome swept through 5,000 years of human creativity without mentioning one female artist. Sure there were plenty of female subjects—demure portraits, regal princesses or reclining nudes preening for male gazing – but let’s face it: this was one big art story perpetuating the myth of male genius.”

In today’s society, sexism still exists in a male-dominated art world as female artists continue to struggle against these odds. One Guerrilla Girl poster states, “less than 5 percent of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85 percent of the nudes are females.” Despite this, the Guerrilla Girls have come a long way.

Associate Professor of Art History Marice Rose said, “Their art has affected real change. Museums began to fear being targeted by the Girls and started including female artists who had deserved to be in their shows,” but had been previously ignored because of their gender or lack of art-world connections. Rose is currently teaching a seminar for junior art history majors on the topic of Women in Art. “I was thrilled at the opportunity to build the course around the exhibit and to have students engage in the material in a variety of ways, from helping create the advertising sign in the BCC to writing research papers on issues raised in the show.”

In our first seminar, we explored the harsh and overlooked realities of how the art world is dominated by male artwork and is mainly controlled by wealthy owners of private museums who refuse to put women on display in galleries. Eliasoph concurs, “It’s regrettable that a wide swath of the art world has been unable to modify itself. The Guerrilla Girls cleverly document how male critics, curators, and museum directors still hold most of the cards.”

However, the Guerrilla Girls are not limited in their focus of woman artists. They also poke fun at Hollywood and the media for its sexist ways of depicting women. Junior Jaime Kader admired how the Guerrilla Girls used celebrities Halle Berry and Catherine Zeta Jones to mock society’s image of the word feminism.

Senior Katie Gillette, an art history major, interned at the Bellarmine Museum of Art this past summer and worked on bringing this exhibit to life. She said, “As an art history major, I feel strongly about the message the Guerrilla Girls are trying to portray,” and added how she feels their message is “different in way that it is nontraditional art, but still speaks to viewers and pushes them to see something else or understand how art can be expressed further than a painting or drawing.”

In fact, the art gallery effectively encourages students to vent frustrations in society regarding women. Students in the Quick Center wrote about topics ranging from the sexy girl hamsters in KIA commercials, the Kardashians and the word “slut-shaming.” Another interactive element of the Fairfield exhibit is a gallery wall of “love and hate mail.” A letter response from a New York Times art critic to the Guerrilla Girls said that she would become more conscious if using only male artists in her articles.

The Guerrilla Girls movement encourages women to open their eyes to the world around them and to start conversations surrounding gender inequality in the art world and beyond. Eliasoph defines art as “the most powerful mirror reflecting the morals and standards of any society.” This art exhibit establishes that one does not have to be a feminist or an artist to open their hearts and minds to the inherent sexism in our society.

If you haven’t already seen the Guerrilla Girls exhibit, it will be on display until Nov. 4. Be sure to come to the free lecture with original Guerrilla Girl member, “Frida Kahlo” and Q&A with the exhibition’s curator, Neysa Page-Lieberman at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 23 in the Barone Campus Center Oak Room.

 

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