Currently on view at the Cohen Gallery in the Granoff Center: “On Protest, Art and Activism”

Everyone should take a study break at the Cohen Gallery this finals period to experience “On Protest, Art and Activism.” The mixed-media exhibition explores the role of women in American society and seeks to break from a patriarchal culture.

Guerilla Girls’ Horror on the National Mall strategically asks, “why does macho art world keep female artists out of sight?” In response to this question, they create a collage-like portrayal of a gossip magazine that effectively attempts to unlock the reasons why women artists have not made a large presence among art museums in Washington, DC. The Guerilla Girls effectively transform the cover page of an easily identifiable Ok Weekly tabloid magazine. Vibrant colors and energetic text stylistically break the news of severe gender disparity throughout museums in Washington, DC. In addition, they create a guerilla-style attack on Washington, DC art institutions through a rather ordinary medium. “Not OK Weekly” reads “Horror on the National Mall! Thousands of women locked in basement of D.C. museums!” This medium emphasizes scandal and secrecy. Below the shocking headline, written in intense pink and yellow to grab one’s attention, a collage of female, bodily figures and face cut-outs remain trapped in a dungeon-like cell. The magazine cover emphasizes the inability of women artists to ultimately break from cultural and institutional norms that favor male artists. Within the cell, a female figure wearing a white leotard embodies a contrapposto stance with her hands resting upon her hips. Her black-and-white head looks directly at the viewer and works with her relaxed, unbalanced position to emphasize her sheer disappointment in regard to the unbreakable exclusivity of art institutions. She seems strong through her alluring gaze, yet cannot break free from the metal bars in front of her. The tabloid lies unbalanced in the center of a newspaper depicting the national mall. The contrast between intense scandal and the uniformity of the Washington, DC city-scape points to the hypocrisy of these museums. Located in the nation’s capital, these museums ironically embody the antithesis of equality. However, the perfectly symmetrical National Mall remains as the beautiful backdrop that ultimately distracts one from noticing the lack of female representation in Washington DC’s art museums. The city’s patriotic symbolism expresses idealized egalitarianism that ultimately overshadows these gender issues. The Guerilla Girls powerfully use this gossip magazine as a template that catches the eyes of viewers through a conventional medium that scandalously brings forth the severe need for more women artists in Washington, DC.

Through its enticing design and a tabloid-like composition, Horror on the National Mall successfully highlights immense gender inequality in art institutions. The Guerilla Girls incorporate a mixed media portrayal of this greater narrative that adds sheer shock-value. In addition, the artists include facts to uncover that there has only been “3 one-person exhibitions of women in 10 years; 68 by guys.” Configured within the context of this tabloid, these unfortunate facts not only bring forth a political call to gender equality but use the regularity of this easily identifiable magazine cover to unlock these issues with the art community. Perfectly relating to the nature of their name, the Guerilla Girls ironically appropriate a gossip magazine that usually denigrates countless women through unrealistic portrayals of beauty and harsh criticism. Therefore, this media collage expresses disdain in art institutions by taking power from a polarizing and critical media outlet and using this template to convey a further message of women empowerment. The Guerilla Girls transform the magazine’s narrative to strategically highlight the hypocrisy of Washington, DC institutions that shut out women artists.