Guerrilla Girls exercise artistic license with Michele Bachmann

Guerrilla Girls, the anonymous women’s political art collective that often appears in gorilla masks, has lent its talents to the bid to defeat a proposed amendment that would write a ban on same-sex marriage into Minnesota’s state constitution.

Its artwork for the cause is a 14-foot-high by 40-foot-wide billboard image of Minnesota’s conservative Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann, no friend to the gay rights movement. The sign, high above a busy intersection in downtown Minneapolis, deploys a fragmentary quote from Bachmann – “we all have the same civil rights” – to unwillingly enlist her as a spokeswoman for the side she opposes.

Bachmann said it last year in a public forum in Iowa, during her unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination. The Des Moines Register reported that she used the now-billboarded phrase during an exchange with a student who was president of her high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.


What Bachmann quickly added to her rhetorical flourish -- but her art-making antagonists decided to overlook -- was the notion that when it comes to marriage, the right we all share is to wed a person of the opposite sex. The Minnesota marriage amendment proposes to confer that right, and no other, on matrimonially-minded residents. Opponents of the ban are strictly playing defense -- even if they win, same-sex marriage won’t become legal in Minnesota.

If Guerrilla Girls stand to get poor marks for truth in political advertising, Joan Vorderbruggen, who heads a Minneapolis group called Artists in Storefronts and commissioned the billboard, applauded the artistic means.

She said she emailed a request to the Guerrilla Girls website, asking that they get involved, and “I fell off my chair” when a voicemail came back that “this was exactly the kind of work they wanted to do.”

Dealing with a Guerrilla Girl who went by the alias Frida Kahlo, Vordebruggen said she arranged for the art collective to get input from the leaders of the campaign to defeat the gay marriage ban, while retaining full creative control.

“I committed to the project sight unseen,” Voderbruggen said. She used a silent art auction to raise money for the $2,500 billboard rental through Oct. 28 and the Guerrilla Girls’ $1,000 artists’ fee.

The billboard has been up since Sept. 14, Vorderbruggen said, and still no response from the congresswoman regarding her purloined words and her pink-puckered lips. “Michelle Bachmann has done what I expected her to do, which is completely ignore it.”

What matters more, she said, is getting the attention, and the “no” votes, of some of the 28,000 people the billboard company told her pass by it each day.


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