The 1960s was a time of anti-war demonstration, and civil and queer rights movements. The feminist art movement emerged during this time trying to rewrite the falsely male-dominated art history as well as change the contemporary world around them through their art, forcing the established art world to look at it self through the inclusion of woman’s perspective. Women during this time paved way for identity art and activist art of the 1980s.
Before feminism, the majority of women artists were invisible to the world. They were often denied exhibitions and gallery representation based on the sole fact that they are women. The art world before the 1960s was considered a boy’s club only and two women in particular helped to change this by raising awareness of the feminist art movement. One of them was Judy Chicago, one of the most important pioneers at the time to challenge the male dominated industry. She helped to create a dialogue between the artist and the viewer to question the social and political landscape, and through this questioning, possibly affect the world and bring change towards equality. Judy Chicago born as Judith Cohen in 1939. She received her Bachelors of Fine Arts from UCLA in 1962 . In 1970, she pursued a full-time career to teach at Fresno State University. She was hoping to inspire other women adopt a feminist lens in their work. This ultimately led to the first feminist art program, encouraging women to pursue their art with a feminist mindset .
She is a multimedia artist. Her work ranges from painting, drawing, live performances, pyrotechnics, and printmaking, among others . She is referred to as “the foremost feminist artist in the world today,” having created an immense amount of work, many of which are controversial and challenging to the male dominated industry. Chicago, is not afraid to use the imagery of woman’s sexual organs in her work. She sees it more as a challenge to subvert the patriarchal obsession with phallic forms and has developed an art using ‘active vaginal forms.’ Judy Chicago uses her art to reframe art history, and to counter the objectification of woman. She aims to use the power of art as a vehicle for intellectual transformation and social change. She wants to show that men and women are equal beings.
In 1974 Chicago started The Dinner Party, an artwork which took an enormous amount effort to display many of the women who have contributed to the development of our western civilization. Chicago set a triangle table that was 43 by 36 feet long, with 39 place settings, and 999 names in the heritage floor on which the table rests. She crafted each setting, in a style honoring the that specific woman depicted. The triangular table which is divided by three wings offering 13 place settings, representing 39 women of historical significance. The women featured comprised of the mythical, biblical, and contemporary mid-twentieth century figures and are organized in chronological order.
The first table features notable women “From Prehistory to Rome,” the second “From Christianity to the Reformation,” and the third “From the American Revolution to the Women’s Revolution.” Starting with the Primordial Goddess and ending with Georgia O’Keefe, each setting has 30-inch-wide and 51-inch- long runner embroidered with the guest’s name and is embellished in a fashion that represents the period in which they lived with domestic settings, such as ceramics, needlework, and china-painting that were not consider high art. “By using these techniques to illustrate a history of women at a dinner party, Chicago called attention to the presence of women in the arts and honor their contributions.” As stated in the Brooklyn museum, “creating a monumental work of art dedicated to anonymous art by women historically, Chicago thumbed her nose at those who dared to question its artistic value—or the labor involved in its production.”
The Dinner Party is significant because it serves as a case study for the second-wave feminist movement. Both have functioned as a channel to bring awareness to stories of women who have been historically marginalized. Feminism “changed the narratives of what mattered and, by doing so, changed history itself” and simultaneously The Dinner Party had similar effects on our collective notions of female sexuality, women’s role in history, and representation of women in art. Another notable celebration in the work was the representation of the female anatomy. Her ceramic plates blossoming from a central form was clearly a phallus form of the vulva. She was celebrating the power and beauty of the female anatomy. During this time, some viewers found it as a vulgar image to look at. This I believe, was a success because it created a dialogue with the viewer about the gaze and the female anatomy.
Chicago work tirelessly to help improve the landscape and environment of the female artist, to help change how they can be appreciated. From the detailed genital plates to the equally detailed table runners, Chicago set out to make a statement and there is no argument that she hit the mark. Still over ten years we still look back at this amazing ground setting art work. Chicago stated in the interview with Gloria Steinem from the Interview Magazine that her goal as an artist was to “create images in which the female experience is the path to the universal, as opposed to learning everything through the male gaze….”. This is a topic that will persist as long as we live in a patriarchal society. We female artist has a responsibility to educated and bring social and political injustice to light for the better of mankind.