I recently visited the Women Hold Up Half the Sky exhibition, on view at the Skirball Cultural Center and Museum until May 20th, 2012. This is an original exhibition based on the bestseller Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Both the book and the exhibition aim to raise awareness about the challenges that women and girls in the world, and especially in third world countries, face in our contemporary society.
The exhibition is organized in three circles that address the main issues plaguing women today: maternal health, violence, and human trafficking. These issues are explored through a variety of media: art, videos, photography, artifacts, and sound. While we learn about statistics, we also encounter stories of women who have overcome oppression, like Goretti Nyabenda of Burundi. Goretti started her own business thanks to a $2 microloan. In a video she shares just how deeply that has changed her life, improving her relationship with her husband and creating a new future for her children. She is now a leader in their community and an inspiration to both women and men.
The stunning interactive art installation “The Wish Canopy,” a ceiling sculpture, covers the whole exhibition space and holds the handwritten wishes left by visitors for women and girls. These messages of hope color the whole experience of this exhibition, not just aesthetically, but by making us feel that we are helping these women hold up the sky.
This is just one example of how participatory this show is. When viewing exhibitions that deal with sensitive subjects, visitors can sometimes feel discourage and overwhelmed. Not here! Visitors are empowered to take action steps and the possibilities seem endless. Each visitor receives $1 that will go to support a microloan for a woman entrepreneur. There are also opportunities to advocate, share actions we have taken or wish to take to make a difference, and connect to organizations to get involved. As we are reminded in the exhibition: change is possible and it can happen quickly with our help.
I sometimes felt that the exhibition design was somewhat sterile. I would have liked to see more of the colors and hear more of the sounds and voices of the people and countries featured in the exhibition. It would have allowed me to see them not just as victims of injustices and abuse, but also as human beings with a richness of expression and beauty. I did find some of this in the videos, the paintings, and in the sound installation “Amplify” by Ben Rubin. This installation is a mosaic of voices, sounds, songs, and lullabies of girls and women of Rwanda, recorded in July 2011, 17 years after the genocide. While listening to the voices I was able to connect with these women and their experience.
All in all, the exhibition is very powerful. I left with a renewed understanding and a reminder of the condition of women in the world. I left compelled to educate myself more and get involved in projects that empower women in my city and in other countries. I left uplifted by the courage and radiance of the women whose stories touched me so deeply. I left conscious of the profound impact that my actions have on those around me, far and near, and of the importance of responsible choices. I left feeling proud and grateful of being a woman, a girl, of what makes us so vulnerable but yet again so special, strong, and powerful. I left inspired by my sisters’ voices.
If you can’t see the exhibition is person, visit the Skirball website.¬†You can view images and read some of the stories. Get inspired by the wishes left by visitors and take action!