Date: May 16 2012
THEY'RE among the world's most famous activists, yet their identities have remained a secret for more than 25 years.
Two of the founding members of New York-based feminist art activists Guerrilla Girls are in Melbourne this week to discuss their philosophy and their campaign against the art world in a special one-off public talk at VCA's School of Art.
The self-styled masked activists formed in 1985 in response to an exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art which showcased 169 artists, of whom only 17 were women. The exhibition's curator had stated: ''Any artist who is not in my show should rethink his career.''
The Guerrilla Girls, whose numbers change over the years and who are mostly artists (some reportedly of some renown) themselves, protested the curator's statement with posters hung around New York highlighting discrimination in the male-dominated art world.
Their most famous posters, featuring slogans such as ''Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?'' now hang in the museum they originally protested against.
Their use of humour, in particular, and their controversial visuals saw their activism broaden to target sexism, racism and corruption across art, film and politics.
They've produced billboards, posters, books and other projects (such as a large installation for the 2005 Venice Biennale) and various members have made public appearances around the world - but never without their masks.
''Frida Kahlo'' and ''Kathe Kollwitz'' (all Guerrilla Girl members use the pseudonyms of female artists) said yesterday while certain improvements for women and artists of colour have been made since the group's inception, the art system still needs to change.
''Most museums of contemporary art still have under 20 per cent - often way under - of women artists,'' Kahlo said. ''The larger question is that the art market doesn't accurately represent our cultural production. Artists need to agitate more.''
The ''system'' in the US, adds Kollwitz, is designed to make a small percentage of artists really valuable ''and almost everyone else not'' as wealthy collectors compete for the same works. ''They all have these cookie-cutter collections - what's it going to be like 100 years from now? If you wanted to do an exhibition from 2012 and it was 20 artists who all these rich people had collected? That isn't our culture.''
Guerrilla Girls Public lecture tonight at VCA is booked out but a live feed will be shown next door in Cinema 2 at the VCA's School of Film & Television, Southbank.
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