A three sided table, thirty nine seats, one hell of a dinner party.
I’ll admit it: I’m not huge on art museums. I can nod my head at an agreeable color scheme, a pretty face on a canvas, maybe even a recreation of a landscape, but it doesn’t get much deeper than that. I often have trouble relating to pieces and finding something in them that evokes my own emotions. I see a piece, but I often lack a story. However, Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” changed all that. “The Dinner Party” filled a hole in me that I didn’t realize was there and gave strength to emotional muscles I didn’t even know I had.
Today, many people are very uncomfortable with hearing the word “vagina”, much less seeing a visual representation of one. However, Chicago’s 1979 piece pushed everyone out of that comfort zone by boldly making the yonnic imagery in her art obvious and undeniable. Chicago had been creating feminist art long before “The Dinner Party”, but as she was trying to get settled and accepted in the art community, she made the imagery much less obvious. However, the social change of the 70s inspired Chicago to create this piece and show the world how beautiful and powerful the female anatomy can be. There are thirty nine place settings at the table (and 99 names on the floor) representing women whose stories had been lost in mainstream history. Each place setting features a chalice, cutlery and an elaborately, uniquely designed plate. The designs on the plates and the matching placemats embodied each women’s skills, talents, creativity and individuality.
As a female, it was extremely empowering to see non-sexualized images of female anatomy. I didn’t realize that I had never seen images of the female body accompanied with such messages of strength and beauty. I had never witnessed such overt yonnic images either. There are many phallic images in art and even media, but yonnic images seem to be much more taboo and hidden. The paradoxical views of the feminine form came to me then, as I realized that the feminine form is simultaneously hypersexualized and shamed. I enjoyed Chicago’s unapologetic and direct representation of the forms and felt proud of what I saw. I saw not just a vessel for a child, or a factory for someone else’s pleasure, but a true work of art, a form of function, complexity, beauty and uniqueness. Experiencing Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” has forever changed the way I look at art as well as my own body. I realize now that art has the power to stir up shared emotions and that my body is its own work of art, purposeful, distinct and irreplaceable in its form.
All pictures are of Judy Chicago’s ‘The Dinner Party’ at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.