Students packed into the Taubman School of Art and Architecture’s lecture hall yesterday to welcome SoHo’s famous Guerrilla Girls, who gave a presentation on their 18-year fight against discrimination in the visual arts.
Traveling to the event in rubber gorilla masks and using pseudonyms taken from deceased female artists, the Guerrilla Girls have managed to maintain complete anonymity since their organization’s genesis.
As the self-proclaimed “Conscious of the Art World,” they have been producing a myriad of posters, books and public advertisements criticizing institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which they feel underrepresent women and minorities.
“All our research shows that ‘culture’ lags behind social change,” said one Guerrilla Girl, who called herself Frida Kahlo. “Forget avant-guard, it’s all derriere.”
But the women stressed that they are not “Quota Queens.” They only attack publications, galleries and museums with drastically low representations of women, like H.W. Janson’s book,
“History of Art,” which mentioned no women in its original print and in its first revision only commented on 19 women out of the 2,300 discussed in the book, the women said.
Carol Jacobsen, an organizer of the event and self-described feminist, said people get tired of hearing her talk, but when the community hears the same message from a group like the Guerrilla Girls, it starts to have an effect.
“They’re important to the art world,” she said. “They point to all forms of bigotry.”
Jacobsen added that even at the University, 66 percent of Art students are female, while less than 23 percent are full-time faculty.
Michelle Hinebrook, an Ann Arbor resident who facilitated bringing the Guerrilla Girls to the College of Creative Studies in Detroit a year ago, said she has been a friend of theirs since working together.
“They made a difference in the overall community of CCS, and the action of minority groups,” she said.
But Hinebrook regrets that the Girls didn’t directly address more current issues, like the possibility of war with Iraq.
“I know it’s hard to keep (their presentation) current,” she says. “I was hoping there would be more in the content, but their message is still the same.”
Although the Girls have never been to Ann Arbor before tonight, Kahlo said they heard rumors that the University’s Art Department needs work.
“We think Michigan should live up to its liberal reputation.”
But despite the biting humor in the group’s publications, there is a serious intention in their actions.
“We think it’s everyone’s responsibility to fight discrimination,” said Guerrilla Girl Kathe Kollwitz. “And this is the way we do it.”