What Have The Guerrilla Girls Ever Done For Me?

hint: nothing

Ok so i went for a walk to go she the guerilla girls billboard that art nights and the tetley have had the guerilla girls do in hyde park and honestly i thought we were past this framing by now

The whole thing smacks of the art worlds version of pink pussy hat feminist activism. Yes i know the guerilla girls have been around as a nebulous entity since the 80s but here’s the thing - feminism has changed, but their game hasn’t

Poster from 1989

This poster from 1989, that i think is now owned by the tate, is really not that different from this 2021 billboard. Yes these issues still stand, but taking the same approach to them after 30+ years is at best stale and at worst takes a position that only supports those already in a decent position (like soz but i’m never gonna have my work shown in the met museum so this doesn’t really help me)

Billboard here in Leeds in 2021

I stood for a full 10 mins looking at this billboard and wondered who the hell its even for and who its supposed to be talking to. The students of hyde park? Half of them are either already major arty wankers who will bum this or are too busy getting pissed on the otley run to even really care. If this really wanted to have an impact then why isn’t it in places like beeston or armley? It feels like its been plonked in a prime spot cuz it will get seen more rather than considering where it might have the most interesting impact. Hell why not get it put on the poster pillar things that are around the city? That might have a wider impact seeing smth like this so near the museum

I also wonder what space there is for the politics of the city in this activism/art/whatever the fuck it actually is. I’d honestly have been more impressed had this been tailored to reflect the city and its politics rather than a billboard to push a crowdsourced project? I’m assuming thats what it is cuz the whole thing is really not clear and it feels like its trying to do several things at once rather than one clear goal to communicate.

Like do the guerrilla girls (largely american) know about the recent decision to close the managed zone here in Leeds? Do they know about the constant battle for trans rights in the city? Do they know about how black women are treated in the city? I think its safe to assume not

Their work is oddly devoid of mentioning trans women, smth that always sets alarm bells off in the back of my head. Admittedly this one using gender reassignment did make me fully lol cuz its clever and doesn’t feel like its ignoring transness, whereas previous work about estrogen bombs to make men nicer and mailing ur leftover estrogen (who has leftover estrogen in this economy!) just back up that feeling of it all being cis-centric and heading towards pop-feminsim - in the way that punk and feminist aesthetics and slogan etc have been absorbed into mainstream.

Poster from 2012

As a trans woman (i’m so tired of saying that line) i feel just as othered by the guerrilla girls as i do any other ‘i am woman hear me roar’ artwork/project/statement' which this absolutely does have those vibes. It is a little bit tiring to see that the tetley would have a mural in its bar about motherhood with a trans flag on it that has no visible trans women in it and also do this - its just kinda exhausting to once again feel othered 

There is smth unsettling about the way ‘naked women’ are talked about vs ‘women artists’ and it took me a little bit to realise it smacks of the same way women who do sex work are talked about but women with saviour complexes. Like we could talk about women in the arts without this tone of ‘women artists good, naked women bad’ that is sooooo several waves ago

Also come on, using naked (cis) women for shock value to get ppl to pay attention to ur billboard is an exploitative tactic its just ok when (cis) women do it cuz whats weaponising (cis) womens bodies between a couple of girlbosses in gorrila masks

Billboard from 2007

With the major vibes their work gives off looking at things like this billboard from 2007 is just confusing to me as the tone just isn’t clear and given half their work seems to ring with an undertone of disdain for any woman who doesn’t quite fit with their radical feminist ideals i can’t help but wonder how much the guerrilla girls actually likes these hollow gestures more than they like actual women.

I’m sure the money that was used for this could have been used to add another work to the leeds sculpture collection for example and boost the numbers beyond like 11, instead of a hollow billboard that makes me wonder what the point even really is