By Lianna Hubbard
The Bob Rauschenberg Gallery was filled with people wearing gorilla masks, eating bananas and scribbling on chalkboards. Billboard-sized graphics plastered on the walls displayed statistics on female artists in bold text and portraits of women sporting gorilla masks.
“Because it’s our 40th anniversary, it was important to me that we be a little self-reflective,” said Jade Dellinger,the Bob Rauschenberg gallery curator. “We can always stand to improve.”
The first exhibit of the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery’s 40th year opened Jan. 17 with “Guerrilla Girls: Rattling Cages.”
The Guerrilla Girls are a feminist art collective of female artists, curators and critics who formed in 1985 in response to the inequality of the male dominated art world. The artists covered their faces with gorilla masks and took the names of famous female artists to protect their identities and careers.
Wendy Chase, professor of Humanities, introduced the exhibit with a talk about the mostly untold history of women in art, and the Guerrilla Girls’ contribution to balancing an account written by and for men.
“For 33 years now, they’ve (Guerrilla Girls) been on a mission to expose, to question and hopefully to disrupt art world practices that exclude women and artists of color,” said Chase in her presentation.
In a surprise appearance via Skype on the Rush Auditorium movie screen, one of the original Guerrilla Girls took questions wearing a gorilla mask to protect her identity.
“We’ve always wanted to transform people,” said the Guerrilla Girl, who uses the alias Frida Kahlo. “When they laugh, you have a hook in their brain.”
The Guerrilla Girls graphics lined the gallery walls.
One graphic had “The Advantages of Being a Female Artist:” printed at the top in the bold, black font that the group used for many of their early work, originally released as stickers. In the list that followed, some items were “Working without the pressure of success”, “Not having to undergo the embarrassment of being called a genius” and “Getting your picture in art magazines wearing a gorilla suit.”
Another had text filling about a third of the frame, saying “You’re Seeing Less Than Half the Picture Without the Vision of Women Artists and Artists of Color”.
The Guerrilla Girls’ message has grown over the years. Their sharp wit, gripping images and crucial insight have remained integral to their work.
“No longer would anyone in power admit that you could write the history of art with only white, male artists. There was a time when all the experts in the art world really thought art history was a meritocracy. Well I think we’ve proven that’s not true,” said Kahlo. “What hasn’t changed is the institutional structure of the art world. That’s now what we have to focus on changing. We’re ready, we’ve got what it takes. It’s the system that is excluding us and keeping us out.”
At the beginning of the exhibit, visitors are greeted by a blank chalkboard. Painted on the wall next to it is: “I’m not a feminist, but if I was I would say.”
One visitor wrote, “Feminism is not a bad word.” Another said, “Motherhood is a feminist job!”
The exhibit, “Guerrilla Girls: Rattling Cages”, is open until March 23.
“Just keep rattling the cages,” said Kahlo. “If you think of a way to do something that’s unforgettable, people won’t forget it.”