Gorilla-masked feminist activists flock Weber State event

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 1:32 PM

Randi Weston, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

OGDEN — Students at Weber State University went ape for the Guerrilla Girls on Wednesday night at an event in the university’s Mary Elizabeth Dee Shaw Gallery.

The event featured a lecture by the Guerrilla Girls, gorilla-masked anonymous feminist activists who take the names of famous dead female artists and use humor and art to provoke critical thought about society’s inequities when it comes to race and sex.

After an introduction from Katie Lee, director of the Shaw Gallery, and a short video that shared the Guerrilla Girls’ motto, “we stand for the conscience of the art world,” the Guerrilla Girls entered the auditorium handing out bananas, which they promised, if eaten, would cause “an incredible attitude change.”

The Guerrilla Girls, “Frida Kahlo” and “Kathe Kollwitz,” then launched into a history of their organization, which started in 1985 in New York with the guerrilla postering of items on buildings around the city. When people started referring to their posters — which described inequities such as the number of female artists in the Met (3 percent) versus the number of female nudes in the Met (83 percent) — as too “negative,” the Guerrilla Girls had a thought-provoking and hilarious response; they made a poster titled “The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist.”

The poster details such cheery upsides as: “working without the pressure of success,” “having an escape from the art world in your 4 free-lance jobs,” and “not having to undergo the embarrassment of being called a genius.”

Other provocative Guerrilla Girl posters include “Top 10 Signs You’re an Art World Token,” “The Estrogen Bomb,” and “The Anatomically Correct Oscar” which features a chubby white Oscar statue and includes the subtitle, “He’s white & male, just like the guys who win.”

The Guerrilla Girls also encouraged the audience to question the validity of their history textbooks, claiming that, “part of the weakness of history textbooks is they make you think there is a master narrative.” They encouraged the audience to be detectives and not to accept the official history of the winners and those in power.

Katie Lee said the idea for the event stemmed from a conversation she had with Laura Gelfand of Utah State University and Gretchen Dietrich of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. Lee said Gelfand initiated the conversation about getting the Guerrilla Girls to come to Utah and sharing the cost among the three organizations, and that she and Dietrich quickly jumped on board.

“I think it’s always important for students, especially at a university — this is the time when you’re learning, and you’re developing your critical thinking about the world, and there’s no better time to be introduced to the Guerrilla Girls and concepts of feminism and activism and what they’ve done for the art world,” Lee said.

Angelica Pagel, art history professor at WSU, raved about the performance.

“I think the feminist art movement has been really important,” she said. “Some of the best artists are associated with the feminist art movement, and I think just like they said, it’s very much part of our cultural and our historical heritage. I loved it. Absolutely loved it.”

Several of Pagel’s students were in attendance at the Guerrilla Girls performance, and Pagel shared what she hoped her students had taken away from the show:

“Courage. Daring to do what they want to do. Becoming artists that respect themselves whether they make a lot of money or not. So, a lot of courage to just go and do it. Like the Guerrilla Girls say, ‘Go ape.’”

Lee said a video of the Guerrilla Girls’ performance will be edited, and she hopes to have the final product posted to the Shaw Gallery website (www.weber.edu/shawgallery) in a month.

More information on the Guerrilla Girls can be found on the organization’s website at guerrillagirls.com.

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