Not Everyone Got a “Place At the Table”

After reading A History of U.S. Feminisms by Rory Dicker and reading about Judy Chicago as a class, we went to the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition to see Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party in person. Judy Chicago uses vaginal imagery, or yonic structures, for most of her plates. The use of yonic structures is a way for Judy Chicago and other artists to reclaim women’s bodies. The Guerilla Girls once made a poster directed at the MET claiming, “less than 3% of the artists in the Met Museum are women, but 83% of the nudes are female.” Each plate is supposed to represent each woman as a whole, unlike previous art which has only managed to capture a woman’s physical appearance.

The structure of the art piece is an equilateral triangle with 13 plates or seats on each side. The idea of a dinner table and 13 seats should remind us of the Last Supper. As you go along each side, you’ll notice that the women on each side are grouped by their position in history. The three sides represent: Prehistory to the Roman Empire, the Beginnings of Christianity to the Reformation, and the American Revolution to the Women’s Revolution. The use of different colors, structures, sizes, shapes, etc., shows that Judy Chicago tried to represent the whole woman. Judy Chicago also uses individual runners as an extra feature to each place setting to include characteristics of the woman that could not fit on the plate.

Going off of the research I did on my previous post, the Amazons were almost fully represented at the Dinner Table. The Amazon’s plate still retains its yonic structure. What I noticed is that unlike many of the other plates, the inside of the vagina depicted on the plate, is white or empty. This would make sense since the Amazons did not attach much emotion in sex nor did they really have a sex life. On the plate there are two labryses in black. This is a major symbol to represent the power and self-sufficiency of the Amazons. There are also two other labryses on the back of the table cloth, which isn’t shown in the photograph. A pair of breasts are also represented on the plate. The breasts have also become a symbol of women. The color black shows the solidarity, the toughness, as well as the cruelty of the Amazons. The purple shows the dark side but also the femininity and maternity they also embody.

After a full revolution around the art piece, I noticed something. Not everyone got their place at the table. The only woman of color represented was Sojourner Truth. Although Sojourner Truth was important to the women’s movement and abolition, I think there could have been more women represented. Although Judy Chicago wanted to include a “wide range [of women], from very famous, accomplished women forgotten by recent history to wives of famous men who sacrificed their careers, to obscure women who failed to win recognition,” I did not get a sense that there was a variety in the pool of women that she chose to represent in the plates. I do not remember seeing one Asian woman, or Latina woman, or Middle Eastern woman. Even though I do take into account that the research might not have been available, I felt that she could have at least made an effort to get at least 2 or 3 women of color a “place at the table.” The question that arises for Judy Chicago is: Why were some women included in the art piece while others not, and what decision-making process was made to put women’s names on the Heritage Floor?

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