Ending the ongoing cycle of omission

The conversation about sexism on Wikipedia is longstanding. In 2011, The New York Times Room for Debate took up the question of why there are so many more men than women contributing to a “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” in their forum titled “Where Are the Women in Wikipedia?” In 2012, the Royal Society in London hosted a mass “edit-a-thon” to improve the Wikipedia profiles of leading female scientists who have been ignored and overlooked by the online encyclopedia’s male-dominated army of contributors. Earlier this year, outrage ensued after it emerged that on Wikipedia, female authors have been slowly and quietly relegated to an ‘American women novelists’ subcategory, clearing space on the all-male main page. In an instance closer to home, when our own curatorial intern, Rebecca Shaykin, embarked on a project to integrate the female pop artists included in the exhibition Seductive Subversion into Wikipedia, she found that only 14 of the 25 artists had existing Wikipedia pages.

The Dinner Party

Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). The Dinner Party, 1974–79. Mixed media: ceramic, porcelain, textile. Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10. © Judy Chicago. (Photo: © Aislinn Weidele for Polshek Partnership Architects)

Given this context, it felt right that one of my projects would involve Judy Chicago’s large-scale installation, The Dinner Party, which has been on permanent exhibition at the museum since 2007. The Dinner Party is an icon of feminist art, which features the names of 1,038 women in history—39 women are represented by table place settings and another 999 names are inscribed in the Heritage Floor on which the table rests.

Chicago created The Dinner Party “to end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women were written out of the historical record.” As Wikipedia is often the first and last place people go to conduct research, it is increasingly coming to represent the most accessible, if not the most comprehensive or well sourced, historical record available today. This project is a direct manifestation of our effort to advance Judy Chicago’s intentions for The Dinner Party and re-write forgotten women back into history.

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