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St. Kate’s gears up for the Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo discusses strategy with students during their workshop.
Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo discusses strategy with students during their workshop.
Photo: By Rebecca Studios

The local arts community is about to go bananas over the Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover and St. Catherine University is at the heart of the action.

A series of public events and exhibitions kicks off January 21–24 and culminates with the weeklong Twin Cities Takeover February 29–March 6. The Guerrilla Girls worked with St. Kate’s, MCAD and other local youth groups this past fall to form the foundation for the takeover. 

Touted as the first project of its kind for the Guerrilla Girls, and the largest local arts collaboration to date, the Twin Cities Takeover “aims to inspire individual and collective activism” through the creation of new artwork and a series of public, community-wide events.

While nearly 30 organizations are involved, St. Kate’s is one of six organizing partners along with Hennepin Theater Trust, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), Walker Art Center, and Weisman Museum of Art.

“To be an organizing partner alongside regional giants like the Walker and Mia is an incredible honor. It’s a testament to the strength of the arts at St. Kate’s — of our commitment to nurturing and showcasing women artists through the curriculum, the Women’s Art Institute and the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery,” says Patricia Olson, associate professor of Art/Art History, and director of the Women’s Art Institute.

Celebrating their 30th anniversary in 2015, the Guerrilla Girls are internationally known activists that expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world, film and the culture at large. Group members remain anonymous, take on the names of dead women artists and appear in public wearing gorilla masks.

The two founding members, who go by Kathe Kollwitz and Frida Kahlo, were in the Twin Cities last fall as visiting artists at MCAD and St. Kate’s to conduct preliminary work for the Takeover. They kicked off campus activities with an energetic multi-media presentation about the Guerrilla Girls’ history and work to date in St. Kate's Jeanne d’Arc auditorium. 

Startling facts about gender, ethnic and economic disparities in the art world revealed that while change is slow, agitators like the Guerrilla Girls are making an impact. The key to their success lies in the absurdly outrageous and humorous framing of their messages.

“If you can make someone who disagrees with you laugh, then you have a hook inside their brain. And once you’re in there, you just might be able to change their minds about things,” they explain.

Throughout the evening, the Guerrilla Girls intertwined catchy calls to action like “use the ‘F’ word — feminism,” and “let’s make trouble together” with practical suggestions on taking action like placing flyers inside books at booksellers and museum stores. 

Guerrila Girls crowd

An energized crowd in Jeanne d'Arc vows to "make trouble" with the Guerrilla Girls. 
Photo: By Rebecca Studios

Inspiring tomorrow’s activists

The first Guerrilla Girls workshop at St. Kate’s brought together students from Professor Sharon Doherty’s Foundations in Women’s Studies class, and student activists from the Artist’s Coalition, Black Student Association (BSA), Catherine’s Monologues, and Muslim Student Association (MSA).

During the workshop, the Guerrilla Girls presented the strategies behind their work, students then identified issues they felt passionate about, and broke up into groups to brainstorm ideas and create actions.

“After an hour, you will be surprised by how much you’ve accomplished by working together,” says Guerrilla Girl Kathe Kollwitz.

The workshop wrapped up with presentations by the students groups, with feedback from the Guerrilla Girls and other students.

“My biggest takeaway is that if you want to make a meaningful impact, you should be strategic. It’s not just about catchy words. Thought must be put into everything you use — from the striking images and stats, to the font and the medium you choose,” says Halimat Alawode ’17, a political science and women and international development double major.

Alawode’s group tackled the need for more faculty women of color. As part of their action, they came up with a list of hiring qualifications for a “token woman of color faculty member.” The list of requirements ranged from the unattainable “must have ten published books, four of which are on the New York Times’ Bestseller list” to the stereotypic “must speak for her entire race and community in all meetings and whenever requested.”

The group fashioned their campaign after the Guerrilla Girls’ approach.

“We wanted it to be absurd in the way we represented it to illustrate how absurd it is in reality,” Alawode explains. “It was exciting to have the Guerrilla Girls around to validate our ideas, yet also challenge and encourage us to build on those ideas.” 

The feeling was evidently mutual.

“We’ve worked with a great group of diverse students who are very outspoken and clearly feel empowered to do social activism,” says Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo. “It’s nice to be at a traditionally women’s college because there are so few of them that still exist.”

When asked why it's important to engage the next generation of activists, Kahlo is quick to respond “A hundred and fifty years of feminism isn’t going to overcome millennia of patriarchy.”


See more photos from the Guerrilla Girls at St. Kate’s on flickr.

Visit Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover for a growing list of public events and community activities. 

Watch the Guerrilla Girls on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.


St. Kate’s involvement with the Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover was made possible by the Amy Marie Sears Visiting Artist program. Established in memory of Amy Marie Sears, a promising 1995 studio art major who passed away in 1997, the annual Amy Marie Sears Memorial Visiting Artist Series invites a distinguished artist to St. Catherine University for a one-week residency.

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Jan. 14, 2016 by Sharon Rolenc

See also: Arts, Faculty, Liberal Arts, Social Justice, Students