Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party: Reclaiming Herstory

Upon entering Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party exhibit, I could immediately sense the serene, godly like mood.  The entry banners  served as a way to lead into the main section of the installation, which was the actual dinner table.  These banners created a divine quality by incorporating biblical quotes on them, symbolically leading us to “herstory.”

The actual dinner table part of the exhibit was a great balance of art and symbolism.  I was able to see Chicago’s vision of The Dinner Party as the Last Supper, with big china plates set along the table along with a a goblet, utensils, and a beautifully decorated place mat or “runner” for each women represented.  As described in Gail Levin’s Becoming Judy Chicago, Chicago’s vision for the piece blossomed out of  ” ‘an academic dinner party’ ” where ” ‘the men at the table were all professors, and the women all had doctorates but weren’t professors.  The women had all this talent, and they sat there while the men held forth.  I started thinking that women have never had a Last Supper, but they have had dinner parties where they facilitated conversation and nourished the people’ ” (251).  This reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, when Woolf describes the dinner she attended at the men’s college, in which all the men lead the conversations while the women sat back silent.  It’s interesting to see the parallelism in both Chicago’s and Woolf’s experiences although they occurred decades from each other.  Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party therefore is a piece of art work that gives the female figures of history a place where their voices are honored in contrast to the constant silencing they faced from men during their time.

Walking around the dinner table, I was able to tell why the project took Chicago five years to complete for every piece was very detailed and intricate.  Each plate setting depicted the represented woman in a unique way.  However, one thing that prevailed throughout the entire piece was the clitoral/ flower images presented on each plate.  I believe Chicago did this as a way of honoring and empowering the women figures.  Although these images on the plates caused much controversy over the piece, it added beauty with a deeper meaning of female empowerment.  One thing that stood out to me the most were the designs and intricate embroidery on the place mats or runners.  The runners complemented the plates beautifully with their colors and designs which further depicted the represented woman.  I also noticed that the names of the women were embroidered in gold on each runner.  Gold is a perfect color for Chicago to have used in embroidering the names because it is a royal and bold color that highlights the strength and boldness of these women.  For the Boadaceia plate, the woman which I researched, I noticed the rich burgundy and gold colors Chicago used for the image on the plate and the runner.  Just by looking at the plate and the runner, I was reminded of a warrior.

In the last wing of the table, the images on the plates became 3-D and even more intricate.  I believe Chicago did this as a way of representing the build up to the women’s revolution/ movement and as a way of symbolizing the power and rights women were gaining.  At the end of walking around the dinner table, I felt like I had been taken on a journey through a story of female history and achievements.

The last part of The Dinner Party exhibit was very interesting and informative.  In reading the Heritage Panels I learned a lot more about each women represented in The Dinner Party.  I noticed how the history of women is like a circle.  During the beginning of time, women were equals to men.  They were honored, godly, and looked up to.  However, as time passed, women’s status in society declined.  As described in the Heritage Panels, the Renaissance marked the end of women’s power.  Humanism led to individualism, which only applied to men.  During the Reformation, women’s education ended and they were prohibited from universities, professions, and the right to property and inheritance.  The Feminist Revolution came about as a way to reclaim women’s rights and their status in society.  Feminism today is still working toward achieving the same status for women as they had during the beginning of time.  

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