Guerrilla in the Midst

St-Laurent Blvd on Saturday Night
Last week I discovered that one of the original Guerrilla Girls, aka Frida Kahlo, was going to be in Montreal, giving a talk at the Café Santropol as part of the February 26 Nuit Blanche all-night arts fest. It couldn't have been a more beautiful night. There was a touch of spring in the air and people were wandering the streets, visiting the various venues in spite of the frigid temperature.

In addition to featuring local artists Pepita Ferrari, Caroline Martel, Rébecca Déraspe and Andi Gilker, the Café Santropol had put up Guerrilla Girl posters, including the collaborative work with  UQAM's art department to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, which Frida Kahlo later signed.

In front of a small room of visitors, our Guerrilla Girl spoke of her last 25 years of feminist activism, raising awareness about the dearth of women artists in major museum collections throughout the United States and then later in other western countries such as France, Ireland and Italy. Frida said that initially in the 1980s, the Guerrilla Girls' pranks were met with hostility. Over time, this led to acceptance, which meant that the GGs had to come up with other approaches to maintain their activist edge. Our speaker also talked about the transformative effect of humour in delivering the GGs' message. It made sense to me. An angry message solicits a flight or fight response, while humour, obviously a more pleasurable sensation, might invite more reflection.  The other upside of using humour: Frida said that she had really enjoyed her 25 years of activism. One of her favourite projects had been creating books, some of which had gone on to become women's studies text books, not the original purpose.

Our Speaker: Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo
 In the Q&A, I asked about some of the successes of the GGs' activism. Frida said that due consideration is now given to collecting works of art by  women and people of colour. She also spoke of the Elles exhibition at the Pompidou Center in Paris. (BTW, the GGs figure prominently in the exhibition's promotional video). After 20 years in the making, the Paris museum created a major exhibition featuring 500 works from more than 200 women artists from the main art movements of the 20th century. The purpose of this installation, which has been so incredibly popular that it was extended for another year, was to write an alternative history, or a new history of art which highlighted the contribution of female artists that hitherto had been excluded.

That's quite a step forward for one of the most important modern art museums in France.

In my research, I found another aspect of the GGs that readers might find humorous: the origin of the gorilla mask. Apparently at one of the meetings in the 1980s, someone had written a sign and inadvertently spelled "guerrilla" as "gorilla." They found this so funny that they decided to maintain their anonymity and don gorilla masks. What better way to attract attention than to wear a gorilla mask with a sundress and strappy sandals.

In the near future, Frida mentioned something about a series of art buildings in Chicago with strictly men's names. The GGs were reportedly going to change this by projecting women's names onto the buildings. I can't wait to see the results....

Related posts:
Guerrilla Girls, Humour and Hope
Publishing: What If...?
Publishing: What's "Good" and "Important"  (Stats on the # of books authored by women that are reviewed)
CBC: The Elephant in the Room  (Terry Fallis's book beats Carol Shields in Canada Reads)
Reads from Men



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