Women & Design // WID Insights
Taking it back to the start
How Guerrilla Girls inspired the next billion women feminist artists, including the women in design team.
Team WID — Dhruti Soni // October 2020
"If art is a record of culture, and the art doesn't look like the culture, and the art is told only through the works of white males, that's basically what it is. It's the history of patriarchy, not the history of who we are."
— Guerrilla Girls.
Our founders realized that "Design, in India, is a minority — and Women in Design, is an even smaller minority." Despite art & design having embedded itself into the very core of India, its somehow still managed to be undervalued against other professions. Yes, it may not be as often now, or done in broad daylight — but it's still a constant, persistent, annoying 'humm' that lingers in the back.
Women in Design, India didn't start out as just another fight against patriarchy, or another community web-page that would 'support creatives' by only highlighting those with say, 100k followers. It wasn't something that suddenly popped out of the blue, rather a gradual process of unspoken, shared experiences that all came together to create the strong and continuously growing community that it is today. Truthfully, we're grateful to have taken the leap.
Art history has been something that has always been rather intriguing, from the vast differences between the Indus Valley Civilization compared to the the Greeks and Romans, it's always been the story of who we are. So, naturally, it was like stumbling across a goldmine upon discovering "The Art History Babes", a podcast by 'four friends that really dig art'. Binging on the podcast become second nature — during walks, meals, runs, anything. In episode 4, they discussed the feminist activist artist collective; the Guerrilla Girls, and their tireless fight against discrimination in the art world. Little did we know, this would be the start to something great.
In case you haven't heard of them, the Guerrilla Girls are feminist activist artists who call themselves the "conscience of the art world", and have been plastering their answers across New York City since 1985. (Just need to take a moment to count the years from 1985 to 2020, it's 35 years btw.) Their main message, is to question what you're seeing and why you're seeing it — don't just plainly accept what you see at institutions or museums. Question what's not being shown, and why is it not being shown.
"We undermine the idea of a mainstream narrative by revealing the understory, the subtext, the overlooked and the downright unfair. We wear gorilla masks in public and use fact, humor and outrageous visuals to expose gender and ethnic bias as well as corruption in politics, art, film and pop culture."
— Guerrilla girls, the OG Feminist Activist Artists.
"Our anonymity keeps the focus on the issues, and away from who we might be" By wearing Gorilla masks when out in public, they use facts, humor and outrageous visuals to expose gender and ethnic bias as well as corruption in politics, art, film and pop culture. They sound pretty much like real-life superwomen, don't they? One of their artworks that truly called to me was their poster "Naked" — 'Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?'
They were asked to design a billboard for the Public Art Fund in New York, and it seemed like a great opportunity to do something that would appeal to the general audience. They decided to gather some data on the Metropolitan Museum of Art — the number of women artists vs. male artists whose work was displayed, as well as the number of naked female bodies in the artworks. The results, despite being quite revealing, unfortunately was rejected by the Public Art Fund, saying it wasn't "clear enough". Not getting discouraged by a hurdle on their path to equality, they decided to run the creative as an ad and plastered it on busses across the city! Since 1989, they've conducted a few re-counts. While progress is slow, it's still a step ahead in the right direction. Have a look at the recounts here.
They have multiple other projects that they've worked on over the long course of their existence, they've written books (Their latest release "Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly" showcases hundreds of Guerrilla Girls' projects from 1985 - 2020!), exhibitions and activist projects across not only New York City, but around the globe.
The statistics the Guerrilla girls shed light on were mind-blowing (🤯)! They so confidently called out the wrongdoings of the art society and managed to do so through impactful visuals that were easy to understand by anyone. They cut the bullsh*t and focused on what really matters.
Here are a few of their projects from the past and present. Head on over to their website to see some more cool feminist activist artist work.
We're always open to other perspectives, opinions and a good chat over some coffee or tea. We'd love to host a conversation with you, head on over to our Discord and get in touch!
With 🧡 Team WID.
Up Next // Sanjana Desai
Our woman of the month is the wonderful Sanjana Desai. Sanjana is a concept artist, illustrator and storyteller who loves showing emotion and storytelling through her art. Her favourite things to draw are animals, kids and nature. Read more on her journey into design.