The Guerrilla Girls: Web provocateurs

The notorious art-world pranksters known as the Guerrilla Girls have set up shop on the World Wide Web, and they're taking the pale, male Internet world by storm.The Guerrilla Girls are a posse of anonymous women, never seen without their gorilla masks, who use the names of dead women artists. They gained fame in the 1980s by publicizing the exclusion of women and people of color from the galleries and museums of New York. Their posters, plastered over NYC's neighborhoods, lampooned the "stale, male, Yale" art establishment and its fixation with the one-white-man show, and their zap actions have pressured gallery owners and curators to change their ways. The group is taking an increasingly high profile in Cyberspace."Our basic desire is that our cultural institutions reflect our culture," said a member who calls herself Kathe Kollwitz after the early 20th-century German socialist sculptor. "The art world anoints certain people as geniuses and elevates the art of the few, but when we look around we see the art of the many." Now the Guerrilla Girls are going electronic and making their message available to anyone with a modem, using their formidable talents as political media mavens to infiltrate the mostly male and white Internet. Their Web page is a home base for new attacks on the art establishment and an archive of past Guerrilla Girls mischief; it includes their posters, a travel diary of the group's world tour, correspondence from friends and foes, and a newsletter. The Guerrilla Girls hope to use the Web site as a far-reaching and fast-organizing tool to contact people all over the world."The great thing is that you can get an immediate response from people," Kollwitz said. "It's not like postering a part of town in New York. On the Web we're worldwide and we can respond to things immediately. We've gotten messages from people all over the world telling their stories."The group is also out to make the presence of women and people of color seen and heard on the Web. "One problem still with the Web is that it's mostly men," Kollwitz said. "That's an inherent problem that our presence can help change."As for the leap from street spaces to cyberspace, the Guerrilla Girls are confident that their message will travel well. "We've used physical space in a lot of different ways because those are great ways of organizing. Now cyberspace came along and it's great for us, because we're about ideas...What we would ask is everyone go into the galleries and museums yourselves and count how many works are by women and people of color. In general the fancier the museum is -- [the more they're into the one guy thing]. But you can complain about that."The Guerrilla Girls are tying their next campaign to the election year. "Sometimes we do stuff about art and culture, other times about politics, and this is a good year to do a lot on politics," Kollwitz said. "We're planning a big election campaign, and you know that we hate hypocrites and love showing that all these 'family values' politicians are divorced and living their glitzy lives in Washington. There are a lot of us out there -- there are millions of guerrilla girls. We're not a political party, but maybe that's a good idea -- the Guerrilla Girls can run for president!"

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