Art and activism: Guerrilla girls challenge the norm

By Staff Writer Eric Sousa.

Whenever the phrase “guerrilla warfare,” is heard, people normally think of rebel groups fighting oppressive regimes with an odd assortment of craftily-handled weapons. With the activist group Guerrilla Girls, this phrase hits the mark fairly well.

However, the activist weapons are more unusual than most guerrilla groups; masks, artistic activism, and a message to bring female artists to the limelight are part of this organization’s arsenal. Donna Kaz, a revealed member of the group, brought this and more to UMASS’ attention last Monday.

To protect their identities, members of Guerrilla Girls don masks to hide their identities and take the names of female artists that were unfairly treated and underrepresented. Aphra Behn is the alter ego of Donna Kaz, and under this guise she was responsible for a myriad of activist movements.

One of the prominent activities that she and her group would do is print statistics of the lack of female-written plays on Broadway. These stickers, made exceptionally difficult to peel, were to be placed in every bathroom stall at popular venues. Over a section of time, a female-written play was produced on Broadway… before falling away again. This was one of the many rise-and-fall battles that Donna Kaz detailed fighting, but she showed no lack of vigor despite her years in the plight for female representation.

The audience was gripped by what she had to say, drinking in the positive energy that is both needed and appreciated in today’s society. She discussed her new book, PUSH/PUSHBACK, which is her answer to cynicism towards whether activism impacts societal change.

“I decided to unmask and write this book to empower girls to go forward and fight for “The F Word.” However, her spoken word was less about her book and more about empowerment. “This is a great time to be a feminist,” she details.

The crowd was clearly moved by her statements, murmuring agreements and applauding whenever she finished a thought. This was partially due to her ability to address the crowd directly, with statements that could have worked in a group setting or one on one, looking you directly in the eye. “I think everyone is creative and everybody is pissed off about something. That’s what it takes to be an activist artist.”

The topics covered ranged from her experiences in life to the increase of female representation in the US Senate. She conducted the information in a way that left the listener with the idea that all these wins, from Broadway to politics, are interconnected. By the end of the event, the crowd was left with the inkling that these separate wins do more to help the bigger picture than we realized.

One student, Virginia Santee, had this to say on her experience; “I found the methods she proposed– to challenge yourself to speak to others unfamiliar to you, that it’s okay to make mistakes and so forth– encouraging. Intersectionality is important.” This Biology junior was far from alone in this assessment, based on the applause received at the end of the event.

The Guerrilla Girls are thriving and active. If their message interests you to learn more, simply go to guerrillagirls.com for all their recent updates. And please remember; stay safe, stay active, and stay ready to think outside the box.

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