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Skirball Cultural Center

2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049 - (310) 440-4500


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Skirball Cultural Center presents


A Community Engagement Project

September 13, 2011–May 20, 2012

Pearls of Wisdom 

Photo courtesy of Ken Marchionno


LOS ANGELES—Pearls of Wisdom: End the Violence, an exhibition tackling the critical social issue of domestic violence, will be on display at the Skirball Cultural Center from September 13, 2011 through May 20, 2012; admission to the exhibition is free. Conceived by renowned artist Kim Abeles, the exhibition is the result of a community art-making process by which survivors and concerned community members recast their personal memories of domestic pain into iridescent art objects. Using the metaphor of pearls as treasures that form inside an oyster in response to a harmful irritant, each participant took an object that symbolized the abuse or assault and transformed it into a “pearl of wisdom” using paint, text, imagery, plaster, bandages, and more. Together these deeply personal works draw attention to the problem of domestic violence while celebrating the power of art to forge courage and call communities to action.

Pearls of Wisdom is the culmination of a two-year community engagement project created by Abeles on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Venice, CA–based A Window Between Worlds (AWBW), the only national nonprofit organization dedicated to using art to end domestic violence. For this collaboration with AWBW, Abeles drew on her passion for social change, her own history as a survivor, and her long career of working with community groups.

Participants in seventy workshops—which took place at shelters, universities, domestic violence conferences, and other organizations across California—handmade the pearls. They also shared texts that offer public lessons of courage, strength, and solidarity. These “pearls of wisdom” range from the highly practical (“Always keep spare keys,”  “Take care of yourself, and don’t expect someone else to do it”) to the poignantly truthful (“Real love can be felt in the heart, it cannot be pounded onto our bodies”) to the very hopeful (“You will open your wings when you’re ready, and believe me you will fly”). Among the participants were women, children, pre-teens, young adults, families, advocates, and shelter leaders. By the project’s end, more than 800 unique spherical pearls and pearl discs, measuring three to six inches in diameter, were created. At the Skirball, more than 150 will be on view, along with three artists’ books—entitled Pearls of Wisdom, Handbook for Living, and Handbook for Mothers—that contain the transcribed commentaries of participants as they reflected upon their experiences.

In the catalogue for the exhibition, Abeles describes her inspiration: “The metaphor of the pearl is that a beautiful treasure forms inside oysters in response to a harmful irritant. So it is with domestic violence. Though we seek a peaceful and safe world for women and families, for now, what we have are beautiful pearls of women and their children who have been heroes and heroines moving forward with their brilliant, heartfelt messages to share with the rest of us.”

For Abeles and AWBW, the display of so many pearls, each unique in its symmetry yet connected to one another, represents a significant social metaphor. Where past conceptions of domestic violence regard survivors only as victims, or treat intimate partner violence as something to be hidden from view, Pearls of Wisdom makes public these life lessons as the vital source material for a long overdue social dialogue on domestic violence.

Members of the public are invited to participate in the Pearls of Wisdom community engagement project by creating their own pearls of wisdom and sharing them online at

To mark the opening of Pearls of Wisdom at the Skirball, a special event will be held on Sunday, September 25. From 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., Abeles, AWBW Founder Cathy Salser, and a survivor of domestic violence whose work is included in the exhibition will introduce the project to attendees. Refreshments will be served; tickets are $30 and available for purchase at or (310) 396-0317.

Following the remarks, at 4:00 p.m., Abeles and Salser will lead a walkthrough of the exhibition. This guided tour is free and open to the public.


Related Programs

Pearls of Wisdom is presented in association with the exhibition Women Hold Up Half the Sky—opening at the Skirball on October 27, 2011—which explores the themes of sex trafficking, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality.

In addition, the Skirball will be presenting a number of programs related to Pearls of Wisdom:

  • ART WORKSHOP: A hands-on adult-education class, to be taught by Abeles, in which each participant makes his/her own pearl and writes “pearls of wisdom” or advice to share. (Sunday, October 16, 2:00–4:00 p.m.)
  • ARTIST’S TALK: An insightful talk by Abeles about the inspiration for and development of the exhibition. (Sunday, January 22, 2:30 p.m.)

Additional exhibition-related programs may be announced. For more information, visit



Published by A Window Between Worlds, the exhibition catalogue Pearls of Wisdom: End the Violence (2011, 100 pages, 69 illustrations) includes contributions by Kim Abeles and Cathy Salser, as well as Suvan Geer, Suzanne Lacy, Sandra Mueller, and Barbara T. Smith. The catalogue was published on the occasion of the exhibition’s premiere at the Korean Cultural Center, Los Angeles, in March 2011. It will be available for purchase at Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball.


About the Artist

Kim Abeles has been described by Orville O. Clarke in ArtScene as “one of the most acute observers of the state of our region’s body and soul.” Abeles’ art crosses disciplines and often focuses attention on the nearly invisible lives embedded within big social issues. Internationally respected for her large scale collaborative installations, Abeles is also a domestic violence survivor. Learn more at


About A Window Between Worlds

Founded in 1991, A Window Between Worlds (AWBW) is the only nonprofit organization dedicated to using art to end domestic violence. Currently AWBW provides healing art workshops for 56,000 participants in twenty-two states. By providing a safe environment that promotes healing, AWBW’s workshops empower women and children to express emotions, rebuild self-confidence, and envision a future free from violence. Partnering in the Pearls of Wisdom project and exhibition is a celebration confirming the mission of the organization in this, its twentieth anniversary year. Learn more at

Funding to AWBW for the community engagement project was provided in part by City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs; The James Irvine Foundation; Korean Cultural Center, Los Angeles; and Los Angeles County Arts Commission.


About the Skirball

The Skirball Cultural Center is dedicated to exploring the connections between 4,000 years of Jewish heritage and the vitality of American democratic ideals. It welcomes and seeks to inspire people of every ethnic and cultural identity. Guided by our respective memories and experiences, together we aspire to build a society in which all of us can feel at home. The Skirball Cultural Center achieves its mission through educational programs that explore literary, visual, and performing arts from around the world; through the display and interpretation of its permanent collections and changing exhibitions; through an interactive family destination inspired by the Noah’s Ark story; and through outreach to the community.


Visiting the Skirball

The Skirball Cultural Center is located at 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90049. Free on-site parking is available; street parking is strictly prohibited. The Skirball is also accessible by Metro Rapid Bus 761. Museum hours: Tuesday–Friday 12:00–5:00 p.m.; Saturday–Sunday 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.; closed Mondays and holidays. Museum admission: $10 General; $7 Seniors, Full-Time Students, and Children over 12; $5 Children 2–12. Exhibitions are always free to Skirball Members and Children under 2. Exhibitions are free to all visitors on Thursdays. For general information, the public may call (310) 440-4500 or visit The Skirball is also home to Zeidler’s Café, which serves innovative California cuisine in an elegant setting, and Audrey’s Museum Store, which sells books, contemporary art, music, jewelry, and more.

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