Community of Practice Profile
Anonymity, a practice used by the Guerrilla Girls, is often used in social movements to provide a voice to issues without pretense (Anonymous, Guerrilla Girls and Guerrilla Girls Broadband: Inside Story, 2011). The Guerrilla Girls are a feminist group formed in 1985, frustrated when the Museum of Modern Art featured only 17 female artists out of a total 165 artists (Anonymous, Guerilla Girls ). The Guerrilla Girls are an example of a community of practice that utilize anonymity to critique and address issues of inequality. This paper will argue that the Guerrilla Girls use social media of various forms to bring attention to inequality issues through a non-threatening, satirical, feminist approach.
Two founding Guerrilla Girls created the establishment, and together with other members, call upon social change through the creation of feminist visuals (Anonymous, Guerilla Girls ). Members of the Guerrilla Girls remain anonymous; they must be selected by existing members to become a member, and feminists who appear to lack humor are not seen as a proper fit for the group (Anonymous, Guerrilla Girls and Guerrilla Girls Broadband: Inside Story, 2011). The Guerrilla Girls as a community of practice generated pragmatic initiatives, aimed at creating an equal division of opportunities between genders (Chave, 2011). The integration of humor, in the Guerrilla Girls visual media pieces, appears to portray the feminist movement divergently to traditional depictions of the movement.
As feminist artists, the Guerrilla Girls maintain anonymity through the use of the names of dead female artists (Anonymous, Guerilla Girls ). This not only maintains the anonymity of the Guerrilla Girls, but playfully gives attention to (deceased and living) female artists whose work may have been disregarded because of their gender. The Girls argue that the art field would be altered if female, and coloured artists had their art incorporated into the art world (Chave, 2011). By depicting the need for diversity in the art field in a humorous way, the Guerrilla girls allow the audiences of these media pieces to “feel a part of the inside joke” (Chave, 2011). This approach allows larger groups of people to realize that the issue of inequality remains prominent in society.
From 1985 to date, the Guerrilla Girls produce visuals such as posters, and “graphic works” that target “sexism and racism both in and outside of the art world” (Demo, 2000). One example of a satirical poster was “The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist” seen in 1988 (Demo, 2000). This poster highlighted issues female artists faced with their art careers. The Guerrilla Girls presented the truth; deliberately utilizing a humorous delivery. This tactic is a signature of the Guerrilla Girls, aimed at capturing attention and stimulating thought from its’ viewer. By saying things such as “Getting your picture in art magazines wearing a gorilla suit” (Demo, 2000), the Guerrilla Girls illustrated the unfortunate truth about female artists; they are mostly recognised in absurd situations. The list of “advantages”, which were obvious disadvantages, highlighted the need for equality to be brought to the art scene.
The Guerrilla Girls create visual texts depicting issues of inequality in striking and humorous ways. Demo argues that the Guerrilla Girls message is always coherent to their rhetoric, despite the form that the message is conveyed through (Demo, 2000). The Guerrilla Girls are consistent with their arguments because “each poster, action, or book project confronts sexism and racism” and each media piece reveals “the incongruity between social ideals and practices” (Demo, 2000). While the Guerrilla Girls could explicitly target men in their media pieces, their humorous and satirical approach generates a comedic effect; in doing so, they demonstrate the need for change, without placing blame on individuals who may be in a position of advantage. The posters created would “provoke discussion” (Anonymous, Guerilla Girls ) that offered the potential to stimulate social change; the depiction of feminists in an alternative construction showed that “feminists can be funny” (Anonymous, Guerilla Girls ).
The Guerrilla Girls use communications and media technologies to showcase and share their media content. Various media forms such as magazines, posters, billboards, books, as well as online content (such as their website) are generated to broadcast their message (Anonymous, Guerilla Girls ). The Guerrilla Girls argue that they “reveal the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, and the downright unfair”, to do so they expose issues “in politics, art, film and pop culture” using “humor and outrageous visuals” (Anonymous, Guerilla Girls ). Their message becomes more memorable by using the combination of humor and anonymity; the Guerrilla Girls would wear gorilla masks. By taking identities out of the question, the focus becomes the issue of inequality. Through the billboards, posters, and websites, Guerilla Girls highlight issues that reflect society, by emphasising problems with society itself through humor.
The strategies used by the Guerrilla Girls are essentially humor and anonymity. The perception that feminists are serious and lack humor is altered through the Guerrilla Girls’ approach to media content creation. Feminists seen as lacking-humor are not incorporated into the group (Anonymous, Guerrilla Girls and Guerrilla Girls Broadband: Inside Story, 2011). When one poster insinuating violence against men was proposed, Alice Neel explained, “when it comes to this kind of behaviour (the use of physical force or violence) [in media creation] women will lose” (Anonymous, Guerrilla Girls and Guerrilla Girls Broadband: Inside Story, 2011). The integration of violence, or a threatening nature in media, is not seen as a beneficial tactic by the Guerrilla Girls. They use “facts, humor and outrageous visuals” as part of their strategy and methodology (Anonymous, Guerilla Girls ). This allows the Guerrilla Girls to address important issues of inequality through a more approachable depiction. Anonymity, through the use of gorilla masks in “hi public appearances” (Chave, 2011) is a signature tactic of the Guerrilla Girls. The “masquerade” (Chave, 2011) draws attention away from the identities of the Guerrilla Girls, and towards the issue discussed.
This community of practice addresses social issues of inequality in a frame that is divergent from the traditional, straight-forward, feminist approach. Guerrilla Girls contribute towards social change by highlighting issues of inequality through humorous and satirical lenses. One characteristic of the Guerrilla Girls’ approach is to use social media forms, such as bus ads, or billboards, to ask for equal opportunity. Chave argues “the Guerrilla girls tended to represent themselves as pragmatists, asking only for their fair share of the proverbial art-world pie” (2011). Furthermore, the Guerrilla Girls work to change “what it means to be a ‘girl’ producing art”; they do this through “the group’s name and dress to their use of sexual innuendo” (Demo, 2000). The Guerrilla Girls’ creative approach to attacking social issues of inequality, in the art world especially uses a dynamic that is unique to them.
The Guerilla Girls once faced the challenge of hierarchy within the group itself (Anonymous, Guerrilla Girls and Guerrilla Girls Broadband: Inside Story, 2011). The Guerrilla Girls had an issue of diversity initially, where members of colour felt out of place, but with the creation of Guerrilla Girls BroadBand it brought back members of colour who had once left (Anonymous, Guerrilla Girls and Guerrilla Girls Broadband: Inside Story, 2011). The Guerrilla Girls have faced criticism from various sources over time, “art dealer Mary Boone described their campaigns as ‘an excuse for the lack of talent’ ” (The Independent, 2009). Tulley however, argues that the Guerrilla Girls benefit from publicity and that their presence in the media promotes the Guerrilla Girls’ message regardless (Tulley, 2009).
The Guerrilla Girls address problems of inequality, with special attention given to the art-world. Through various media types, the Guerrilla Girls use tactics of anonymity and humor to create social awareness about inequality. They use the gorilla masks, “feminine” apparel, and sexual innuendo to present their messages (Demo, 2000). The Guerrilla Girls aim to bring awareness and stimulate change with regards to gender and colour diversity, with special focus given to the art-world. The Guerrilla Girls feminist approach to social movements and social media incorporates satire and humor, to show that feminism does not have to be an extremist movement. Although the group has faced criticism (The Independent, 2009), it uses those publicity moments as opportunities to get out their message (Tulley, 2009). As a community of practice the Guerrilla Girls are strategic with the way they represent themselves. They select new members carefully and infrequently, to select feminists with a sense of humor (Anonymous, Guerrilla Girls and Guerrilla Girls Broadband: Inside Story, 2011). To maximize their impact on audiences they utilize images crafted to capture attention, with satirical or humorous text to illustrate unequal divisions of opportunity between gender and color. The Guerrilla Girls’ approach therefore maximizes impact without threatening dominant groups.
Anonymous. (2011). Guerrilla Girls and Guerrilla Girls Broadband: Inside Story. Art Journal, 70(2), 89-101.
Anonymous. (n.d.). Guerilla Girls . Retrieved from Guerrilla Girls: http://www.guerrillagirls.com/admin/moreherstory.shtml
Chave, A. C. (2011). The Guerrilla Girls Reckoning. Art Journal, 103-111.
Demo, A. T. (2000). The Guerrilla Girls Comic Politics of Subversion. Women Studies in Communication, 23(2), 133-156.
The Independent. (2009). Guerrilla girl power: Have America’s feminist artists sold out? Retrieved from The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/guerrilla-girl-power-have-americas-feminist-artists-sold-out-1666140.html
Tulley, C. (2009). 6.2: Image Events Guerrilla Girl Style. Retrieved from Enculturation: http://www.enculturation.net/6.2/tulley