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Betty Friedan, the pioneering feminist scholar once said, “The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself as a person, is by creative work of her own.” Her logic implies that creativity is an egalitarian process that lies outside of gender; and in extension, the self-realization and empowerment it provides is equally accessible to women and men. (Friedan, 1963) In her essay, “Judy Chicago and the Practice of 1970s Feminism,” Jane Gerhard effectively demonstrates the empowerment of feminist art through the creation story of Judy Chicago’s masterpiece, “The Dinner Party.” (Gerhard, 2011)

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As Gerhard explains, Chicago’s oeuvre has served as an introduction for “thousands of nonactivist women to elements of feminism.” Through her art, Judy Chicago has broadcast the fundamental koans of feminist philosophy to a wide, public audience. She advocates egalitarianism and personal empowerment through symbolism that both celebrates femininity and critiques the male-dominated society that has oppressed women throughout western civilization. In Gerhard’s essay, though, Judy’s Chicago’s feminist art advances the feminist cause even in its making. She argues that Chicago’s studio not only incorporated a nearly all female crew, facilitating a close network of feminist support; it also effectively raised consciousness about the feminist cause to a wider, public audience, often drawing unlikely participants. Feminist activists crafted “The Dinner Party” alongside nonactivist women, and even a handful of men, “many of whom had no prior experience of feminist activity.” Essentially, “The workers became a central element of ‘The Dinner Party’s’ feminist meaning.” (Gerhard, 2011)

Once completed, “The Dinner Party” was put on public display in 1979 on the West Coast. It eventually came to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which is where it is today. I first experienced “The Dinner Party” three years ago as an undergraduate. I remember walking through the exhibit, looking at the place settings of various important female figures throughout history, some of who I was unfamiliar with situs judi slot promo terbaru. At the time I knew the installation was important -or else it would not have its own room in the museum. But in general I felt disengaged from the installation. I could not connect with it as I knew I should. As a male, without exposure to feminist philosophy, I could not fully appreciate the art as the seminal feminist landmark that it was. This was, of course, before I became a feminist.

I recently revisited Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” and had an incredibly different experience. Explorations into feminist art and philosophy over the past few months have made me more aware of the female condition, historically. Jane Gerhard’s essay has also heightened my sensitivity to feminism. What struck me most this time around was not the symbolism of the place settings, or the names of historical females associated to each setting, but the overall geometry of the installation. There are three tables, each forty-eight feet in length connected on the corners, forming a triangle. While in her essay, Jane Gerhard points to specific empowering symbols detailed within the Judy Chicago’s work -i.e., the vaginal-shaped china, the table cloth embroidered with feminine achievements, etc.-, she misses the larger symbolism of the triangle form. The triangle is one of the strongest geometric forms, which is why it is used in the construction of trestle bridges and skyscrapers. The triangle form of “The Dinner Party” suggests the inner power of the female “guests” placed around the table. Furthermore, each side of the triangle represents a different era of history: “The first table, the celebration of goddess worship; the second, the beginning of Christianity and the rise of patriarchy; and the third, the modern institutionalization of male power and rise of feminist movements.” As these three eras are connected, the triangle configuration thus suggests that all women throughout history are united together through their power as women and through their collective struggle, oppressed under the patriarchal domination that pervades each era. (Gerhard, 2011)

Another aspect of the installation that stood out to me this time around was that it formed an equilateral triangle (all sides are equal). By this, “The Dinner Party” implies that the achievements and patriarchal oppression of each era has been shared by all women equally. This suggests a simultaneity of time and space: the achievements and suffering of heroine throughout history are bound up in the present moment while the viewer is experiencing the installation. The last thing I would like to add is the mirrored effect produced by the black glass walls surrounding the display. First, the mirrored walls double the triangle installation in its reflection. This implies that there is more than what is at first apparent- more feminine achievement, more oppression, and especially, more empowerment for women. Lastly, the black mirrored walls suggest that “The Dinner Party” is a place and moment of quiet reflection. This is moment to study the place settings, and their meanings, but also for studying ourselves, and our society as the walls mirror patrons passing through.

In all, Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” is a multidimensional experience of empowerment, not only female, but human empowerment. As Chicago once said, “feminism, even though it starts with F-E-M, does not mean female only. Feminism is a set of principles, and a way of looking at the world that, for me, is rooted in a re-definition of power.” After my recent viewing, I walked away from the exhibit humbled by its symbolism. Just as for artists in her studio, Judy Chicago raised my awareness to the female condition. (Broude and Garrard, 1994)

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