Breaking the Internet with Guerrilla Girls Broadband
Way back in April, I had the opportunity to sit down with Aphra Behn of Guerrilla Girls on Tour!, a touring theatre company that develops activist plays or performance pieces which address a wide range of issues. Shortly after that interview, Frida Kahlo of Guerrilla Girls contacted me and we spoke about some of the culture jamming activities that they’ve been involved with. Alas, 2 out of 3 has never been quite enough for me so I issued the invitation to the third Guerrilla Girls group ‘Guerrilla Girls Broadband‘ in hopes that I could have a word with them too.
Now, the circle is complete. Gerda Taro, Jane Bowles, Minnette De Silva, and Ren Xia together answered the call and were gracious enough to take the time to answer some of my questions. For the uninitiated, Guerrilla Girls Broadband is one of the sister organizations to originate from the 1985 Guerrilla Girls group and, as their name suggests, they use the internet and multimedia to combat sexism, racism, and other forms of social injustices.
Now, there’s been quite some debate about the Guerrilla Girls split that occurred in 2001. Could you please weigh in on this?
The life of any activist group is not only fueled by optimistic idealist goals but is often full of internal power struggles based both on ideas and personality; this struggle between individual desires and collective aims may dictate the group’s longevity. One of the members of GuerrillaGirlsBroadBand (GGBB) is also one of the seven original founders of the group, and there are other GGBB’s who were in the group first as Guerrilla Girls. We are a few of the dozens of women who contributed to their collective work between 1985-2000. In 1999 two of the group members took steps to Trademark the name “Guerrilla Girls” without the knowledge or authorization of the group. Without airing our dirty laundry I will simply say that we had a different vision of the group’s collectivity, power sharing, and mission. Effectively we were forced out.
What is your group and what are its aims? And is the broadband in your name a reference to the Internet?
GuerrillaGirlsBroadBand tackles the primordial discrimination of our technologized world. The Broads’ site, GGBB.org, pioneers interactive activism through online feminist quizzes, streaming video, and other projects that take advantage of digital media. Our first online project, Letters to Bad Bosses, got a write-up in the New York Times that sent 900,000 visitors to our site! As that article, “A Stronger, More Theatrical Role for Female Activists”, said: “…The new site is about audience participation.”
The “Letters to Bad Bosses” offer users a choice of hilarious accounts of grievances common among office workers especially people of color and women, which can actually be sent to the offending boss anonymously via GGBB.org.
What are its key differences from the other groups?
We still take the names of dead women artists – and our online presence enables us to go much further than before in reviving these lost or undervalued identities. We still participate in the analog world through appearances, physical projects, and posters, but we use the web as a medium for reaching and involving a greater and more diverse public.
What role does social networking play in your ability to spread your message?
GGBB uses social networking tools wherever they provide utility. GGBB has a presence on Facebook. Our site runs on an open-source publishing platform that’s flexible enough to integrate any social media we want to use. With our more inclusive approach to organizing, our dead woman artist Facebook profiles (and website) allow people to get to know the Broads better than limiting our organizing to physical space.
And on that note, how has the Internet changed the way Guerrilla Girls can protest from say, 1985?
When we started in 1985, the artworld was the center of our critique and it was also (arguably) physically centered in New York. We could poster in Soho with a good chance that many of our critiques would be seen by those to whom they were addressed. The artworld is no longer physically centered anywhere, and its increasing globalization is symptomatic of the larger flows of capital (both cultural and economic), along with all the power structures which reinforce cultural hegemony. Don’t forget, GGBB launched in 2001 and within a year, the Bush government started a war on the pretext of avenging the destruction of the World Trade Center: the whole political landscape changed. Our audience and our issues have shifted from local to global and the internet is now our natural habitat.
A couple of my flatmates (male and female) have asked how one could become a Guerrilla Girl? And on that note, could a guy potentially join the Guerrilla Girls?
Given the importance of anonymity to our mission, all new members are nominated by existing members to make sure they are truly committed and will respect the identities of the other members. GGBB are artists in their own right, whose issues or skill set bring something dynamic to the collective. We have had many debates over the possible inclusion of men over the years, but at this time no there are no men in the group.
What projects/campaigns are you currently working on?
In the fall of 2009, the GGBBs designed a new poster, THE ADVANTAGES OF NO CHOICE WHATSOEVER, using a version of the Buffalo transit map to ask ‘Where to Get an Abortion in the City of Buffalo’ – and showing there isn’t anywhere. It was displayed in bus shelters around Buffalo as part of the “Conversation Pieces.” exhibition at CEPA. This project inspired “Cartographies of Choice,” currently in development, which will be a national interactive map of abortion providers and their local support networks, transforming dry facts into a mapped speech-bubble narrative designed to appeal to young women. The Broads received a grant from the Open Meadows Foundation for this effort, which will unfold during the coming year.
We are continuing our campaign against military recruiting in high schools. Our Counter-Recruitment actions premiered in the 2008 exhibition “Making It Together – Women’s Collaborative Art and Community” at the Bronx Museum; and continued in Creative Time’s “Democracy in America,” a giant show held in the military setting of the Park Avenue Armory right before the 2008 elections. In these participatory performances, visitors are enlisted as Counter-Recruits: encouraged to identify with a dead woman artist, they are photographed blocking the entrance to our fake Armed Forces Recruiting Canter wearing gorilla masks. The photos are then uploaded to ggbb.org. Most recently, GGBBs constructed a counter-recruitment “Bootless Camp” for Figment 2010 on Governor’s Island, (a former military base). Participants completed an obstacle course and took the Counter-Recruit Pledge by imprinting lipstick kisses on the ‘War is Over if you Want It’ banner.
To see plenty of more work from Guerrilla Girls Broadband (including the Flash projects that WordPress unfortunately does not allow us to embed), head on over to their website.