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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The message behind the mask


Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous group of feminist artists, uses images and ads such as this to show gender inequalities. An exhibit showing works of the Guerrilla Girls will be at A&M until April 13.

Mixing a message with gorilla masks, A&M will host an exhibit celebrating the Guerrilla Girls’ 30th anniversary of challenging social norms through anonymity and art. 

Guerrilla Girls is an anonymous group of feminist artists that formed in 1984, when 13 original members protested an exhibit at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art because it only had 13 female artists amongst the 169 artist showcased at the time. The group maintains its anonymity by wearing gorilla masks when presenting work.

The Guerrilla Girls exhibit at A&M will be on display at the Wright Gallery through April 13. As part of the anniversary of the original protest, a member of the artist group will reveal her identity at an opening ceremony on March 22.

Susan Stabile, associate professor in the Department of English, said the name “Guerrilla Girls” is symbolic. 

“They were originally starting with the idea of ‘guerrilla’ as in warfare, so they adopted that,” Stabile said. “They use the word ‘girl’ as a kind of reclamation of a term that we think of as, ‘They’re young,’ ‘They’re not finished,’ ‘They’re not women.’ It’s a play on an argument against the separate standards that were put on women by treating them as less developed and successful as artists.”

As for the gorilla masks the group wears, she said that it originated from someone misspelling “guerrilla” as “gorilla” on a poster, but the secrecy attracted more attention to the cause while representing the invisibility of the women in museums and the art world.

Stephen Caffey, instructional assistant professor in the College of Architecture, said the anonymity of the artists shifts the focus to what is really important — the art’s message.

“Because of the society that we lived in 30 years ago and more so now, it’s very easy for people to attack individuals and their character and their identity and sort of divert attention away from the message by killing the messenger,” Caffey said. “By maintaining the sense of anonymity, they achieve two things — they keep the focus on the message, and they protect themselves from any attacks that would distract away from that message.”

Doctoral communication student Caitlin Miles said the exhibit will be universally beneficial to feminists and people who attend the gallery to open up dialogue on issues.

“It offers an alternative conception of what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a feminist, what it means to be a general member of a bigger community — whether it’s political, social or cultural,” Miles said. “It’s about encouraging discussion about visibility of these issues and how we can conceive them, how we can talk about them and possibly even make acceptable ideas of an alternative political reality.”

Women and gender studies professor Tasha Dubriwny said the Guerrilla Girls are an inspirational “success story of female activism.”

“If you looked at what they did, which was directly confront the art establishment and say that the great canon of art that you are including excludes women, excludes people of color, excludes certain types of art,” Dubriwny said. 

Stabile said having the exhibit and the Guerrilla Girl visiting campus is an honor.

“It’s also humbling for us because we should have gratitude for all the activists of whatever sort who’ve came before us because I don’t think we’d be in the positions that we’re in now,” Stabile said.

The opening reception will begin at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Wright Galleries.

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