Happy belated International Women’s Day! Wanting to do something different to honor the occasion, I decided to take a page out of my own book and make a trip out to the Brooklyn Museum yesterday to see Judy Chicago’s iconic piece of feminist art, The Dinner Party. (Note: my previous post erroneously listed this installation as a special exhibit currently on display at the museum. Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party is actually owned by the Brooklyn Museum, a gift acquired and donated to the museum by Elizabeth Sackler, who also happens to be the benefactor of the museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Visitors of the museum can check out The Dinner Party any time in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art).
I arrived to the museum just in time to catch a late Sunday afternoon tour of the exhibit offered by one of the museum guides. And I’m glad I did – there is as much detail/purpose/intention in the historical and cultural detail of the piece as there is in the craftsmanship of every place setting…or should I say craftswomanship? Because that is (part) of what it is – a piece that honors the contribution of the women artists that historically created intricate china patterns, elaborate weaving designs, and detailed pottery molds. The guide explained that The Dinner Party was, and as it is currently, assembled in a triangle shape, an homage to the vulva and feminine. Each of the three sides of the triangle represent a time period – prehistory-Roman Empire, beginnings of Christianity-Reformation, and finally, American Revolution to second wave feminism.
As we rounded the corner to the second face of the triangle, the guide remarked that most of the women honored there were either nobility or nuns. She asked why we thought that might be. Most of us assumed the first two of the three-part answer: because history was a record of the powerful/wealthy/victorious/ruling class, and because these women were educated. The third part did not come so readily to mind for me. Our guide informed us that furthermore, these classes of women did not bear the sole responsibility of raising children. Noble women had a team of nurses and servants to help rear their children, while nuns did not procreate at all. So these women had more freedom, luxury, and educational capital to participate politically and socially in their milieu.
As the tour drew to a close and I considered the piece one last time, I had to wonder: how much of women’s history went unrecorded because it happened to lay women in the lower social strata, but also, what discoveries, manifestos, and leadership went unnoticed, unwritten, or unfulfilled because women’s labor has been so historically undermined? I bet that Judy Chicago would say that just my imagining these questions would make her work a success.
Written by: Jenny Nigro, MoM online intern