Guerrilla Girl speaks on feminism's finer points
By Holly Haufler
The Guerrilla Girls will discuss feminism at the University ofLouisville on March 25. Staff writer Holly Haufler spoke with KatheKollwitz, one of the first members of The Guerrilla Girls, in orderto gain a better understanding of what exactly The Guerrilla Girlsstand for and what their message will be for the students at U ofL.
Louisville Cardinal: What sparked the name Guerrilla Girls?
Kathe (Guerrilla Girl): We decided to call ourselves”guerrillas” after the freedom fighters and”girls” because at that time, pre “girlpower,” it was politically incorrect for females to use anyterm but “women” and we wanted to show that we weresomething different.
LC: Why do you all wear Guerrilla masks?
Kathe: Our work was an immediate sensation when it hit thestreets of NY in 1985. Reporters wanted to interview us, peoplewanted to hear us speak. What’s an anonymous group to do? Westarted out wearing ski masks, but one day a member whocouldn’t spell wrote Gorilla instead of Guerrilla and ouridentity was born.
In the beginning, we decided to be anonymous for purely self-serving reasons: the art world was a small place and we were afraidour careers would suffer. But we quickly realized that anonymitywas an important ingredient to our success.
First, it keeps the focus on the issues, not on our work orpersonalities. Second, the mystery surrounding our identities hasattracted attention, which is helpful to our cause. We could beanyone… and we are.
LC: How many Girls are in the Guerrilla Girls and is there acertain demographic you originate from?
Kathe: Masked avengers must have secrets or else they lose theirpower. We never tell exactly how many we are, or have been. We cansay that from the beginning, almost all of us have been artistsbased in NY. Many women have come in and out of the group over theyears and we have been a diverse bunch in terms of age, race,background, and sexual orientation.
LC: Is it my understanding that you and Frida Kahlo are thefirst original members?
Kathe: Frida and I are two of the founding members and have beeninvolved in virtually everything the group has done.
LC: When exactly did you start defining feminism? Definefeminism today.
Kathe: We don’t define it, our goal has been reinvent the”F” word” feminism by confounding people’sstereotype of the feminist as whiny and humorless. We don’tunderstand why everyone isn’t a feminist. Actually, sincemost people in the US believe in equal rights for women, just abouteveryone is a feminist.
LC: How do you think feminism has changed from when you startedthe Guerrilla Girls?
Kathe: Every generation has its own feminism. Things are bettertoday than they ever have been for women in the U.S., butthere’s still a long way to go. For example, the U.S. Senatehas only 14 women out of 100 senators. And around the world, manywomen still have few civil rights.
LC: Are there issues the Guerrilla Girls feel stronger aboutthan others?
Kathe: The Guerrilla Girls fight discrimination with facts andhumor. We attempt to reveal the hypocrisy, conservatism andcorruption in cultural and political institutions.
Humor helps us present issues in unexpected, intrusive ways. Wedon’t do posters and actions that simply point to somethingand say, “this is bad,” as does a lot of politicalart.
We try to use information in a surprising, transgressing mannerto prove our case. We believe that some discrimination is consciousand some is unconscious and that we can embarrass some of theperpetrators into changing their ways.
This has proved true in the art world: things are better nowthan they ever have been for women and artists of color and we havehelped effect that change. We are still condemning the art worldfor its lack of ethics, tokenism and other bad behavior.
We also have done campaigns about the film world, theater,homelessness, abortion, and war, among many other issues. We takeon issues we are passionate about, but if we don’t come upwith something we think is worth putting out there, wedon’t.
We’ve never been systematic; we just go after one targetafter another; there are plenty to choose from.
LC: I notice each Guerrilla Girl has a very original name, allfemale artists to be precise, yourself included. Does each namerepresent the individual Girl in some form?
Kathe: Each woman chooses her own pseudonym. Each pseudonymhonors a woman from the past.
LC: What is your message for the University of Louisville?
Kathe: Stand up for what you believe in. And have fun doingit.