A Place To Celebrate


Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974-79


This summer I saw The Dinner Party for the first time at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in the Brooklyn Museum.  I have been thinking about how to write about this experience since.  It was created when I was coming of age in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I never called myself a feminist.  I just was born into a certain kind of thinking about what it meant to be a woman.  From 1979 until 1992 I was surrounded by the world of women through my work as a homebirth midwife, editorial work for a national parenting magazine and being a single mother of two.  Since 1992, I have immersed myself in art and find myself increasingly excluded from a sense of community that I had felt as a midwife—which was inherently outside of the mainstream and squarely in the center of a larger, more unified experience of Life.  Being in the full installation of The Dinner Party is an experience of this immersion, of inclusion, of an ancestral history that we are all a part of.  It is a meditative, empowering and peaceful homage.

The installation is enclosed in a darkened room, the center is occupied by a triangular table, a ceremonial banquet with thirty-nine place settings each commemorating an important woman from pre-history to contemporary times such as: Ishtar, Kali, Hypatia, Hatshepsut, Judith, Marcella, Hildegard of Bingen, Artemisia Gentileschi, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Georgia O’Keeffe…  Another 999 names are written out on the floor tiles.  Each place setting features an embroidered table runner, napkin, utensils, a glass or goblet and a ceramic plate that has symbols of vulva-like, flower-like, butterfly-like, opening forms that also suggest the receptivity and depth of femaleness.  The work is a collaborative effort of some 200 women and celebrates traditional crafts such as textile arts and china painting.

It was problematic for the male-dominated art world for several reasons. It challenged the Solitary Male Artist myth through the public acknowledgement of the work as a collaborative effort (even to the extent of acknowledging those who helped maintain the project from its creation until its permanent housing.) Throughout the history of art there have been unnamed others who participated in the creation of the work from artisan guilds to Warhol’s Factory and the production of Jeff Koons’ work where the artist has become merely the ‘idea’ and production is done by unnamed others.  So The Dinner Party acknowledges this collaborative process, but even more importantly, it is a dialogue about the issue of erasure of individuals from history—women, minority races, impoverished classes, all of us without a voice.

Other points of controversy with The Dinner Party have been its distinctly female content, which was created in a heroic, ambitious scale; that the media used was not generally considered “fine art” and that the content was discussed as “cunt art.”

That this work has finally, in 2007, found a permanent home is something to celebrate, a place to bring your daughters and sons.

Pacia Sallomi
October, 2009