An Invitation to The Dinner Party
I am writing this from a hotel room in the East Village, a block or two away from the studio apartment that I leased for the summer. It’s a Friday night. I am alone. I watch friends, lovers and business partners walk down Bowery through my 11th story window. I hear muffled music from car windows and patio speakers. I realize I have not thought about my 90 degree days in New York City since I’ve moved back to Ann Arbor. And I realize this is because I have not felt as lonely as I do in this moment since the nights I spent in my studio on Second Street.
This loneliness is bittersweet. Bitter because of the fact of loneliness itself, and sweet because it brings me back to a Sunday in June that I wouldn’t hesitate to call my favorite day.
On that day, I decided that lying in bed, eating sweet potato fries and watching “The Parent Trap” on my laptop for the fourth time in a week wouldn’t make me feel any better about missing everyone I love from hundreds of miles away (melodramatic? Maybe.) I left my apartment without looking in the mirror and took the six train to Brooklyn. It was hot and miserable, and the subway smelled bad but, for some reason, I didn’t want to return to my comfortable, air-conditioned studio. I wanted to have a day.
When I arrived at the Brooklyn Museum, I purchased a ticket and glossed over the museum map. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I know it wasn’t to discover an entire floor dedicated to Feminist art. I almost didn’t believe it, so, naturally, I googled it.
The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art is located on the fourth floor of the Brooklyn Museum. It is an exhibition covering the importance and vitality of feminist art over the last 40 years. The exhibition aims to be inclusive of different subject matters as well as art forms, such as performance and audiovisual media. The exhibition is most famous for Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” (1974-79).
“The Dinner Party” is a triangular-shaped banquet table adorned with place settings for 39 of history’s most iconic women. These settings are divided into three wings and arranged chronologically: Wing one placing the prehistoric goddesses of Greece and Rome, wing two placing the women from Christianity and the Reformation and wing three placing women from the American Revolution to the more contemporary women’s movement (which includes my personal favorite setting, the one and only Virginia Woolf.) The settings, however, are peculiar. In the place of food, female genitalia sits upon the plates. The genitalia on each of the plates is fit to the woman it is representing, which works to encapsulate both the time period in which the woman lived and personalities of each woman.
When I walked into the space of “The Dinner Table,” I cried (just a little). I cried because my loneliness was absorbed into the buzzing air around me – the air of unity. I was surrounded by badass feminist women, women whispering and admiring, women holding hands and taking photos. I did not speak to these women. I didn’t even make eye contact with these women. But I felt connected with them solely through being in the same room as them, viewing the same piece of art as them.
Only now am I realizing how incredible this is, that all it took to make me feel less alone was to walk into a woman-filled, art-filled space and to simply exist within it. Even though I made no direct contact with the women surrounding me, they felt like old friends.
I stayed at “The Dinner Table” for a while, before wandering through the rest of the fourth floor in a state of mind that was something close to bliss. I left only when the museum was closing. I walked down Bergen Street to the subway station, a half-smile still lingering on my lips. I bought a chocolate ice cream cone and ate it on the subway. I didn’t care that it was dripping on my dress, because I was not alone anymore.
And I now realize that in this moment, I am not alone either.