Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Emily Dickinson's Frilly Vagina

I do loves me some feminism. It's the only thing that will get me up off my couch and into a museum on a weekend, and I suspect the BF knew this when he turned to me on Sunday afternoon and suggested we visit the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Torn though I was between feminist art and my comic book about a woman made of pure electricity, I had to say yes.

The centerpiece of the Sackler Center's permanent collection is Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party," a massive installation that took her five years to complete. It's a triangular table with place settings for 39 influential women throughout history, and the floor in the center of the piece is covered with the names of 999 other women, so all together that's 1038 famous and infamous women. "The Dinner Party" is bigger than my apartment and includes a wonderful "herstory" exhibit explaining who all of the 1038 women were and how they shaped Western thought.

The spellchecker on this website, by the way, just told me that I misspelled "vaginas." I didn't. The program just doesn't recognize the plural of vagina, which speaks volumes about why "The Dinner Party" is still such an important piece. At the time Judy Chicago was creating it (1974 to 1979), there was almost no scholarly interest in women's history. From the Brooklyn Museum website:

"There were no archeologists working seriously on the history of goddess civilizations and imagery, or the all-female Amazonian societies that dated back to the 3rd and 2nd-millenia b.c.; there were no Egyptologists yet interested in the power of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut; there was certainly no real scholarly interest yet in the Baroque painter, Artemisia Gentileschi."

As the BF noted, "The Dinner Party" details a secret history running alongside mainstream Western history--the kind you learned about in high school--where the "Dark Ages" was actually a period where women excelled artistically and spiritually in thriving convents, and the "Enlightenment" was distinguished by massive legal and creative setbacks for women. Of course it's a Western-themed piece. One can imagine that in a time where women's history was seen as revolutionary, there wouldn't yet be much room for multi-ethnic studies.

Still--Emily Dickinson's frilly vagina!
Thanks, feminism. You're all right.

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