Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party”: Reclaiming Women’s Bodies

My class and I went to see The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. Before visiting the exhibit we had read about Judy Chicago and this amazing project she took on. Once we arrived at the museum and walked towards the exhibit, banners were hanging on the ceiling. The sayings on the banners such as Eden or “all that was divided merged” were references to the Genesis. I think Judy Chicago wanted to make that link to the Genesis because she wanted the audience to think about what kind of connection The Dinner Party might have to the Bible. When we walked into the exhibit, one thing the tour guide showed to us that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise was that each leg had thirteen plates. The thirteen plates on each leg is another Biblical reference but to the Last Supper.

Once I entered the installation itself, I found it to be breathtaking because of all the detail that was put into the piece. Seeing the installation for myself was completely different compared to reading about it. I was amazed that Judy Chicago was able to finish the project within five years. I understood why Chicago had decided to make the piece a group project instead of continuing to work by herself. Everything from the floor to the tablecloth was beautifully detailed. All the plates had their own original design that included vaginal imagery, which was completely different for each woman.  Another added detail that I liked was that the lighting for the exhibit was aimed towards the plates so that the viewers could see all the details on the plate. Each plate had its own table runner which was made to represent each woman.

As I walked into the exhibit, I walked to the left because that’s the way Chicago wanted people to view the piece. As I walked counterclockwise, I saw how it started with plates for women who lived in the pre-history era to the Roman Empire. The second leg had plates from the Roman Empire to the Reformation and then the third leg was from the Reformation to the 1970’s in the US.  As the plates go from pre-history to the 1970’s the plates go from being flat to 3-D. I think this was intentionally done as a way to represent how throughout time, women became more aware of their rights and their bodies. I also think this specific detail shows the progression of feminism. Even though all the women on the table might not have been feminists per se, the women on the table contributed to the feminist movement or were strong women who influenced their society in some way.

Another detail that I think is interesting is the shape of the table and the fact that there is no head of the table, meaning everyone is equal. I also think that Chicago chose to design the exhibit this way so that all the women at the table can look back at each other, as if they can see all the achievements that all the other women did and build on those achievements.

Not only was this exhibit truly amazing, it is also very important because the piece celebrates smart, brave women who were “crucified by the fact of their sex” as Judy Chicago stated and so they were never rightfully respected. Another reason this piece is so important is because Judy Chicago wanted the piece to represent women taking back their bodies through art, especially since in most of art history you mainly see men painting or drawing women’s bodies and we do not see a lot of women painting or drawing women’s bodies. But I’m no art student so maybe I’m just not looking in the right places. But either way, the art industry is mainly dominated by men and so Chicago wanted to try to break that.

The two questions I would like to ask Chicago are how did she decide who to give a place to on the table? And who would join the 999 names inscribed in gold on the floor? Even though only 39 women made it to the table, I like how Judy Chicago tried to include as many women as possible by writing their names on the floor. Because isn’t that the main idea of feminism? Feminism is about including everyone. There are multiple feminisms not just one, which one could argue makes everyone’s connected to feminism. In order to make change, we need to start by including everyone.

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago

pre history plate (Sappho’s plate)

1970’s plate (Georgia O Keeffe’s plate)

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