Whether it's the storied Louvre in Paris or the Metropolitan in New York, most museums preserve the past -- be it treasured artifacts or priceless art produced by long dead masters -- think Mona Lisa and Grecian urns. The perspective is society's rear view mirror, not what's right in front of us, let alone what's down the road. The same cannot be said about the inspiring Skirball Cultural Center and Museum in Los Angeles, and particularly their current groundbreaking exhibit: "Women Hold up Half the Sky." A short two miles up the road from its more famous neighbor, the Getty Museum, Skirball helps frame the present to transform the future for the female half of humanity.
"Women Hold Up Half the Sky" asserts that the central moral challenge of the 21st century is the full emancipation of the world's women. It is inspired by the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Pulitzer-prize winning authors, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. And like the bestselling book, the exhibit serves as more than a battle cry: It strives to inform, provoke, inspire and ultimately to compel action.
As you descend a short set of stairs into the exhibit you may notice the ceiling first. It is covered with a diaphanous canopy composed of opaque white heart-shaped envelopes each about the size of a football. It sways gently and whispers wake up. Look around. As you do, you can experience compelling tales told through video, audio, art and photographs about the injustices perpetrated against women and how individual women are leading the way to fight the oppression. In one place you can hear audio interviews of victims of sexual trafficking, in another corner see film of the famed Hamlin Fistula Hospital, and in another hear poetry from survivors of the Rwanda genocide.
At the far end of the gallery you are given the chance to contribute your own ideas to the very canopy you noticed when you walked in. In one of the interactive features of the exhibit, visitors are invited to leave their own messages for women facing difficult circumstances. These messages are added to the envelopes in the canopy. Since the exhibit opened in the October, thousands of messages have been enclosed in the canopy's envelopes.
But, you'd be wrong to think this is only about wishing for a better future for the world's women -- well intentioned hand-wringing. For throughout you are provided with ways to act. You can log into a micro-credit website and make a small investment to a female entrepreneur or you can post a message about what you will do after your visit. Plus you can learn more about one of the twenty or so causes and organizations featured in the exhibit working to change the equation for women.
The mastery in the book and the exhibit is the ability to link the horrendous symptoms of inequality -- maternal mortality and tragic childbirth injuries like fistula, female infanticide, gender-based violence and sex trafficking, providing a lens on the oppression of women and girls, globally, while at the same time demonstrating powerful possibilities to change those bitter realities. The exhibit challenges you to open your eyes, open your mind, open your heart, and most of all to act to improve the lot of the world's women.
The enemy is not men. The enemy is indifference and its evil twin inaction.
The exhibit is surprisingly uplifting. Why? Because you're introduced to ordinary women who have accomplished extraordinary things. There's American Molly Melching who has worked successfully to change forever the practice of female genital cutting in West Africa, or Edna Adan, and her pioneering maternity hospital in Somaliland providing life saving care for women delivering the next generation.
The exhibit runs through May 20 and is open every day but Monday. If you are planning a trip to the Getty, make that two mile trip up the road to Skirball. Parking is free and you don't need reservations. Just go. You won't be disappointed.
While you're there take a few minutes to view the permanent collections in the museum, summarizing 4,000 years of Jewish history and making the connection between Jewish heritage and American democratic ideas. The collection celebrates the United States as a haven for European Jews fleeing lethal persecution in Europe and provides moving testimony of the profound contributions Jewish culture has made to the diverse cultural tapestry of America.
Skirball's mission is to "build a society in which all of us can feel at home." With this new path-breaking exhibit, Skirball takes a powerful step forward in helping build a future where women's equality globally becomes a reality and not a distant dream.
I couldn't help but notice a quote from John Adams in one of the galleries: "Let justice be done though the heavens may fall."
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