Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Art History

First Advisor

Jennifer Johung


Activism, Guerrilla Girls, Performance, Satire


In the spring of 1985, a group of seven female artists sat down in the loft of “Frida Kahlo” after the failed protest of MOMA’s show An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture, which featured a total of 169 artists, 13 of which were female. On this day, the Guerrilla Girls were formed and called themselves “the conscience of the art world.” The Guerrilla Girls entered the 1980s in a crucial period for feminism and activism, which included a change from second to third wave feminism, the forming of groups like ACT-Up against the government’s treatment of the AIDS epidemic, and NEA controversies. For this thesis, I will be interrogating the Guerrilla Girls’ actions, focusing specifically on their emergence in 1985 and work up until 1995, framing them in the theoretical terminology of performance theory. Although this group is first and foremost an activist group, each one of their actions, which include posters, speeches, letter writing campaigns, books, protests, and exhibitions, are all part of their performance as activists in opposition to art world discrimination. The methodology for this paper will include a discussion of three sections, which will allow me to interrogate feminist street art and activism through performance theory: female sexuality as represented in public and cultural performance, satire and play in the display of posters, and the performance of gender. This theoretical terminology (gender performativity, play, satire, public performance, etc.) when used to frame a particular Guerrilla Girl poster, outfit, mask, or action allows us to understand that particular object in this more complex context of 1980s feminism and performance and to see the Guerrilla Girls not only as activists, but also performance artists.