Never looking, always watching: Inspired by The Guerrilla Girls’ Art Assignment “The Art of Complaining”

Ink, graphite, and gouache on paper

Close up of Day 283

Art is a form of expression, just as it is a record keeper.

Day 283 is inspired by those gorilla masks, the ones you just may have seen, that strengthen the art world, the masks that question and challenge and inspire, the masks that are donned by the anonymous, feminist, activist group of artists: The Guerrilla Girls

The Guerrilla Girl’s work is no less poignant today as it was when the group formed in 1985. That spring, the Museum of Modern Art created the exhibition “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture”, only 13 of the 165 artists featured were women, the Guerrilla Girls noticed. 

Beginning with research on the underrepresentation of women artists and artists of color in New York museums, the Guerrilla Girls retaliated: donning Gorilla masks and names of deceased artists such as Frida Khalo and Käthe Kollwitz, they spread posters speaking bold truths across the city. These words ring true years later (see image below).

Guerrilla Girl’s piece

Art is a form of expression, just as it is a record keeper. Through art, we gain glimpses of the past, glimpses into each other’s experiences, thoughts, imaginations. With art, we may learn to question, to think creatively and critically. The Guerrilla Girls, in their art history book The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, expressed the conundrum facing anyone entering art history in a speech bubble above the heads of artists Pan Yuiang, Frida Kahlo, and Claude Cahun: “Whose story is the history of art, anyway?

The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art page 5

To search for the stories art has to express, is to search for all the stories, not just the ones that glorify or agree with us and our culture. Art has the ability to remind us of the complexity of human beings and what we create. And to be aware of these complexities, we must learn to seek out stories.

In the Art Assignment’s video “The Art of Complaining”, the Guerrilla Girls encourage us to create a work of art inspired by complaining,

“Your assignment is to think of something you really want to complain about. Then communicate your message in some unique and creative way.”

This video, the Guerrilla Girls’ words, stories, images, statements all culminate into the understanding that activism begins in the simple form of a luscious complaint. And today’s piece is inspired by a complaint, inspired by an observation.

In our technology ridden world, voyeurism has been infused into our daily lives. Feeds and likes and downturned heads on busy city streets consume much of our human interaction. In current culture, it feels as if we are always watching each other and never really looking. And perhaps, by way of art, by way of eyes, by way of complaint, we can learn to really look at the stories that enrich us as people, as a culture, as a history.

Take a second to get inspired: watch PBS Digital Studies series The Art Assignment’s video, hosted by Sarah Urist Green, “The Art of Complaining”:

And, of course, check out The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art. As written on page five, “It’s ammunition for all the women who are—or will become—artists.” The book also has a beloved and much used spot on my bedside table, it should have one on yours too.