In the 1980s, the Guerrilla Girls stormed through the art world, and the feminist intersection, with their performances in public spaces, exposure of gender gaps, and challenges towards art galleries world-wide.
The anonymous art group, who wear guerrilla masks and are still active today, started in New York City and created a platform for female artists to change the status-quo and reject the evident sexism and racism within the community. Since their establishment, the group has influenced and inspired female artists far beyond performance art.
Nevertheless, one indisputable reality is that the Guerrilla Girls lack diversity. Critics have noted the lack of diversity through the history of the collective and others have spoken out about their time as a member. Zora Neal Hurston once stated that the majority of the group “was mostly white” and although they stand and fight for equality, their collective does not mirror this message.
Where the Guerrilla Girls began, contemporary artists have continued to carry the torch. Collectives like Pussy Riot, Balti Gurls, Girls Only NYC, and The Coven challenge the patriarchy and open up discussions about racial disparities.
The St.Paul collective Electric Machete Studios are a group of artists, dancers, performers, producers, designers, and teachers who focus on the community and “creative narrative of the Mexican/Chican@/Latin@/Indigenous identity.” Made up of over 60 members, the collective is dedicated to preserve the first Latino neighborhood in Minnesota, located in West St. Paul. As it is for many city neighborhoods, gentrification could erase the cultural heritage — Electric Machete hopes to sustain the community through activism, creative practices, and supporting local artists.
Most recently, Electric Machete performed Intervention: a Xicana & Boricua at the Guerrilla Girls Takeover Twin Cities event. During the performance the group fashioned Luchador masks, an obvious head nod to the prolific performance group, and locked themselves inside of a gallery with Latina Theory, a podcast that focuses on Latin@ events, health, and politics. The 48 hour lock-in included the performers sharing stories of Latina sexuality, motherhood, identity, and injustice. According to the curatorial statement, “the exhibit speaks back to mainstream art institutions’ omission of Women of Color” and displays how “artists are impacted when new ideas, people, and materials intervene in a collective process.”
In the performance, Electric Machete was able to respond directly to the Guerrilla Girls and their historically white collective — outwardly challenging their motives. While the performance does not dismiss the Guerrilla Girls wholeheartedly, it rightfully brings up the problematic history of race and hierarchy within their collective, which make them sympathizers to the art institutions that they protest.
Electric Machete Studios provide ongoing support for the Latina community in St. Paul, Minnesota through workshops, an online shop, murals and more.