By 1995, the Guerrilla Girls saw that women artists were getting some recognition in galleries and museums. However, the Girls believed that this new spotlight was often motivated by tokenism, instead of a genuine effort toward equality or recognizing unseen artists. As the idea of multiculturalism became part of mainstream thinking, museums and galleries adopted tokenism. Tokenism is any policy that only minimally complies with rules, laws, or public pressure; for example, allowing one woman to join a men’s organization. Usually the token member of a group does not have an equal vote, say, or the same presence as the other members, they are there mainly for the purpose of showing that the group is including minorities.
The Guerrilla Girls approached this new tokenism in the art world with their classic sense of humor. The Girls’s poster Top Ten Signs You’re an Art World Token lists just some of the ways for people to identify whether or not they are indeed tokens. These items range from the timing of shows (galleries showing women artists only during women’s history month, for example) to the way people treat you (as in always telling you their interracial and gay sexual fantasies). The poster also addresses the idea that token artists speak for their entire gender, race, or sexual orientation, something that we would never ask of a white, straight, male artist.
To see Top Ten Signs You’re an Art World Token: poster and more than 70 other protest pieces by the Guerrilla Girls, visit The Guerrilla Girls Talk Back on the second floor of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, on view through October 2.