The group formed in New York City in 1985 with the mission of bringing gender and racial inequality into focus within the greater arts community.
The group employs culture jamming in the form of posters, books, billboards, and public appearances to expose discrimination and corruption.
To remain anonymous, members don gorilla masks and use pseudonyms that refer to deceased female artists.
According to GG1, identities are concealed because issues matter more than individual identities, "[M]ainly, we wanted the focus to be on the issues, not on our personalities or our own work." In the spring of 1985, seven women launched the Guerrilla Girls in response to the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition "An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture" [1984), whose roster of 165 artists included only 13 women.
A comment by the show's curator, Kynaston Mc Shine, further highlights that era's explicit art world gender bias: "Kynaston Mc Shine gave interviews saying that any artist who wasn’t in the show should rethink ‘his’ career." In reaction to the exhibition and Mc Shine's overt bias, they protested in front of Mo MA. When the protests yielded little success, the Guerrilla Girls wheat-pasted posters throughout downtown Manhattan, particularly in the So Ho and East Village neighborhoods.
Soon after, the group expanded their focus to include racism in the art world, attracting artists of color.
Early organizing was based around meetings, during which members evaluated statistical data gathered regarding gender inequality within the New York City's art scene.The Guerrilla Girls also worked closely with artists, encouraging them to speak to those within the community to bridge the gender gap where they perceived it.When asked about the masks, the girls answer "We were Guerrillas before we were Gorillas.From the beginning the press wanted publicity photos. No one remembers, for sure, how we got our fur, but one story is that at an early meeting, an original girl, a bad speller, wrote 'Gorilla' instead of 'Guerrilla.' It was an enlightened mistake.It gave us our 'mask-ulinity.'" Since 1985, the Guerrilla Girls have witnessed many positive changes, including an increased awareness of sexism and greater accountability on the part of curators, art dealers, collectors and critics.The group is credited, above all, with sparking dialogue, and bringing national and international attention to issues of sexism and racism within the arts.Many feminist artists in the 1970s dared to imagine that female artists could produce authentically and radically different art, undoing the prevailing visual paradigm.The pioneering feminist critic, Lucy Lippard curated an all-women exhibition in 1974, effectively protesting what most deemed a deeply flawed approach, that of merely assimilating women into the prevailing art system.Shaped by the 1970s women’s movement, the Guerrilla Girls resolved to devise new strategies.Most noticeably, they realized that 1970s-era tools such as pickets and marches proved ineffective, as evidenced by how easily Mo MA could ignore 200 protestors from the Women’s Caucus for Art."We had to have a new image and a new kind of language to appeal to a younger generation of women," recalls one of the founding Guerrilla Girls, who goes by “Liubov Popova.” Versed in poststructuralist theories, they adopted 1970s initiatives, but with a different language and style.