Members of the feminist art movement remind us that the aim of activist artists is to create visual images to promote change. The Guerrilla Girls, a collective group of female artists, create artwork anonymously. According to the group, “Mainly, we wanted the focus to be on the issues, not on our personalities or our work” (Tallman, 1991, p. 21). In making this comment, the Guerrilla Girls argue their mission is to create artwork to educate the public about gender and racial equality in the art world.
The Guerrilla Girls demonstrate their mission with the poster, Advantages of being a Woman Artist.
The poster features a reclining nude female model, an image originally found in a Neoclassical Ingres painting from 1814. However, the Guerrilla Girls poster features critical changes in contrast to the original. The female model wears a gorilla mask, with the words: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum? Less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Art Section are women, but 76% of the nudes are female.” Whereas the visual focus of the Ingres piece is the female form, Advantages places emphasis on the words by using a bold easily read font. In making this statement, the Guerrilla Girls remind the audience that their stated goal is to utilize their artwork to bring awareness to the issue and foster change in the art world’s acceptance of female artists in the male-dominated commerce system.
The Guerrilla Girls have just released a new poster to help museums deal with the sexual harassment issues facing many artists. The poster shows three ways to display the wall tag to ignore of inform the audience to the artist’s sinister and criminal behavior.
The Guerrilla Girls use artist Chuck Close in their case study and his portrait of President Bill Clinton. Chuck Close who is a celebrated for his oversized contemporary portraits apologized to the four+ women accusing him of sexual harassment in a story in the New York Times from December, 2017.
A person’s associations serve as important identifiers for growth and empowerment. By definition, socially marginalized communities have experienced exclusion and discrimination, often over multiple generations. Marginalized communities are on the edge of society. Therefore, artists identify with and represent all of these communities. Activist art is created to challenge values, ethics, social mores and speak to what the artist(s) considers unjust political and social realities.
Flags are often associated with cultural symbolism and are therefore the perfect piece of artifact and activism. Flags are created for the street, not for a gallery, and the images on flags can identify, or group individuals together. Flying a flag on a house or car is about more than cloth, it is taking action. The rainbow flag that represents the LGBTQIA asdefined by the American Psychological association as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual community, social movement was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. Baker who created the first iconic rainbow flag after becoming friends with Harvey Milk discussed “how action could create change.” Milk challenged Baker to create a symbol of pride for the gay community because at the time, the community was using the pink triangle that was imposed on homosexuals by the Nazis to identify and persecute them. In 2004, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) acquired the original hand dyed rainbow flag made by Gilbert Baker for their permanent collection. The MOMA’s curator stated that the flag was important to the archives as a design milestone as well as an iconic piece of activist art.
References and Resources for further investigation:
Antonelli, P. (2015). MOMA acquires the rainbow flag [Press release]. Retrieved from https://moma.org/inside_out/moma-acquires-the-rainbow-flag
Barrios, B. (2004). Of flags: Online queer identities, writing classrooms, and action horizons. Computers and Composition, 21(3), 341-361.
Cummins, J. (2015). Intercultural education and academic achievement: a framework for school-based policies in multilingual schools, Intercultural Education, 26:6, 455-468, DOI: 10.1080/14675986.2015.1103539
Gallois, M. (2016). The aboriginal flag as art. Austrian Aboriginal Studies, 2(1), 46-60.
Ortega, A. (2014) Looking into the eye of the process intercultural art activism trans*/lations and intersex/tions in the global south. Agenda, 28(4), 86-93.
Pablo Picasso stated, "Art is an instrument in the war against the enemy." Picasso’s painting titled Guernica, done in 1937, is a powerful political statement that was painted as an artist’s immediate reaction to the Nazis’s devastating, but casual, bombing on the town of Guernica, a village in northern Spain. The black and white painting that was made from traditional materials of canvas and oil painting looks like a mural because of its sheer size. Picasso made a decision about the size of the canvas to engulf the viewer in the scene. The painting is eleven feet high, and twenty-five and a half feet wide and is visually dramatic due to the lack of color. The absence of color is meant to be reminiscent of a photograph. Picasso used the bull and the horse, which are important characters in Spanish culture, as symbols to represent the onslaught of fascism and the people of Guernica.
Picasso knew that the relationship between art and activism was a long one and that artists have to make decisions about what to represent and how the viewer might interrupt the message. Picasso made bold statements regarding the war and his feeling against the bombing of this quiet village. The painting Guernica, which is at the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection has a tapestry version which hangs in the United Nation’s (U.N.) building in New York City. The tapestry is situated on a large wall and provides the backdrop for diplomats as they make statements to the press. The tapestry was controversially covered with a blue tarp when Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2003, made a statement regarding the Iraq war. This was not the first time the painting has experienced intense political activism. In the 1960s and 1970s, the original painting was the focus of a petition and an act of vandalism. Four hundred artists signed a petition urging Picasso to take the painting out of the United States until after the Vietnam War, and in 1974, Tony Shafrazi spray-painted the words "Kill Lies All" onto the painting to protest the United States’ actions in My Lai.
References and Resources
Cousen, B. (2009). Memory, power and place: where is Guernica? Journal of Romance Studies, 9(2), 47-64.
Simonton, D. K. (2007). The creative process in Picasso's Guernica sketches: Monotonic improvements versus nonmonotonic variants. Creativity Research Journal, 19(4), 329-344.
This blog chronicles my research in activist art and my life as a woman in academia.