Women Hold Up Half the Sky

An uplifting call to action

On October 27, 2011 the Skirball Cultural Center, presents the original exhibition, “Women Hold Up Half the Sky.” Inspired by the critically acclaimed book HALF THE SKY: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. “This exhibition will address the worldwide oppression of women and girls as the human rights cause of our time.” It is an uplifting call to action, “confronting the malign persistence of sex trafficking, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality, sharing tales of perseverance, courage, and hope.”

The exhibition is experienced through a combination of thought provoking documentary photographs, visual art, and sound installations. Robert Kirschner, Skirball Museum Director says, “Women Hold Up Half the Sky is an expression of the Skirball Cultural Center’s commitment to human rights and our belief in the power of grassroots action. It is a unique hybrid of gallery installation and community engagement project, affording visitors multiple opportunities to learn, participate, advocate and give.”
 
When Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn first published their well-acclaimed book in 2009, it generated a ripple of change, opening people's eyes to the ways in which we can approach the challenging issues around women and oppression. Both Kristof and WuDann argue, “the key to economic progress lies in unleashing a woman's potential. There's a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism." They add, “Women aren’t the problem, they are the solution.”
 
Like the book, the exhibition tells the stories of women like Saima Muhammad who lived in fear of her abusive husband and whose community ignored her suffering until she received a $65 micro loan. With that loan, she built an embroidery business that now supports thirty families in her village in Pakistan. The exhibition also spotlights visionaries like Edna Adan Ismail, the former first lady of Somalia who used her life saving to build a maternity hospital, gaining support and donations worldwide.

Kirschner worked closely with consulting curator Karina White to produce a gallery experience that would dive deeply into the ideas presented in the book. Ngo leaders, community activists and other leading experts worked together to present these issues such as human trafficking and global poverty. They worked with Los Angeles based architect Frederick Fisher and Partners, to design an intimate gallery space that works with fabric to gently curve the walls.

Multimedia artist Ben Rubin was commissioned to create an audio piece that presents an ambient soundscape of the voices of Rwandan girls that he interviewed during his recent trip to Kigali. Another audio piece consists of the moving stories of women who were trafficked and held as slaves in Los Angeles. Lisa Little and Emily White also collaborated to create a sculptural armature of handwritten wishes from gallery visitors entitled “Wish Canopy.” It is a piece that calls for “collective action.” It ties the theme together as visitors "hold up the sky" by adding their wishes. 

This show delivers a hopeful message illustrating that change is possible and can occur quickly, especially with a boost of economic and business assistance, which helps women help themselves.
 
Audrey’s Museum store at the Skirball will also be presenting a Holiday Pop Up Shop of beautiful hand crafted goods supporting women artisans groups around the world. Purchases will support more than seventy-five organizations that promote gender equality in developing nations. For more information please visit www.skirball.org and www.skirball.org/shop.

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