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Skirball Cultural Center

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


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Press Preview: Tuesday, October 25, 11:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
Light lunch followed by gallery walkthrough with Nicholas D. Kristof
Reservations required: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (310) 440-4544


Skirball Cultural Center presents


October 27, 2011–March 11, 2012

Unique venture inspired by bestselling book seeks to inform and inspire.


Women Hold Up Half the Sky


LOS ANGELES—The Skirball Cultural Center presents the original exhibition Women Hold Up Half the Sky from October 27, 2011 through March 11, 2012. Inspired by the critically acclaimed book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Knopf, 2009), by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the exhibition addresses the worldwide oppression of women and girls as the human rights cause of our time. Stories of women from around the globe who have changed their lives through education, economics, and self-determination are told through documentary photographs, visual art, sound installations, and interactive gallery experiences, including the opportunity to provide a microloan to a woman entrepreneur. Celebrating the individual’s role in workable solutions, Women Hold Up Half the Sky is an uplifting call to action.

Confronting the malign persistence of sex trafficking, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality, Women Hold Up Half the Sky shares tales of perseverance, courage, and hope. Like the book, the exhibition tells the stories of women like Saima Muhammad, who lived in fear of her abusive husband. Her community ignored her suffering until she received a $65 microloan and 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 savings to build a maternity hospital in war-torn Somaliland, prompting donations and support from all over the world.

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,” remarked Robert Kirschner, Skirball Museum Director. “It is a unique hybrid of gallery installation and community engagement project, affording visitors multiple opportunities to learn, give, share, advocate, and connect.”

To mark the opening of the exhibition, Nicholas D. Kristof will deliver a lecture on topics addressed in Half the Sky on Tuesday, October 25, at 8:00 p.m. Attendees may explore the gallery following the lecture.


Creating the Experience

Kirschner conceived the idea of an exhibition inspired by Half the Sky, which has topped prestigious best-books lists since its publication. The book is taught in schools and universities and remains a popular choice of book clubs around the world.

Kirschner worked closely with consulting curator Karina White to produce a gallery experience that would advance the ideas presented in the book. The exhibition was developed with the support of an advisory team of non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders, community activists, and experts on such relevant issues as human trafficking and global poverty.

The Skirball design team was advised by Los Angeles–based architect Frederick Fisher, of Frederick Fisher and Partners, in designing the gallery environment. Gently curving walls made of fabric will create intimate spaces in which visitors can digest the information presented and reflect upon the issues at hand.

Multimedia artist Ben Rubin, best known for the groundbreaking installations The Listening Post and Moveable Type, was commissioned by the Skirball to create an original work for Women Hold Up Half the Sky. “We were thinking of women and girls whose voices are often silenced in their own communities,” explained Kirschner. “We had the idea that those voices should be heard.” Rubin’s immersive audio installation, entitled Amplify, presents an ambient soundscape, orchestrated using the singing and speaking voices of Rwandan girls and women whom he interviewed on a recent trip to Kigali, sponsored by the Skirball.

In a second audio installation, visitors will hear the moving stories of women who were trafficked and held as slaves in Los Angeles. Listening stations will feature excerpts of interviews with local trafficking survivors coordinated as part of the acclaimed StoryCorps oral history project. These survivors are now active members of the Los Angeles–based Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. Production was managed by Rubin working together with White.

While moving through Women Hold Up Half the Sky, visitors will walk beneath a major art installation conceived and created by Lisa Little and Emily White, principals of the architecture office Layer. Entitled Wish Canopy, the sculptural armature will contain the handwritten wishes of gallery visitors in response to the prompt “Share a wish for a woman or girl you know” or “Share a wish for a woman facing a difficult situation.” Designed as a visual testament to the power of collective action, the work will evolve as visitors “hold up the sky” with their wishes.

A series of artworks made by members of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, an international coalition that aims to make pregnancy and childbirth safe worldwide, will help give expression to just one challenge facing women today: high rates of maternal mortality. Created by individuals who have lost loved ones in childbirth, the paintings and textiles help to personalize a tragedy that touches so many around the world and which claims the life of one woman every ninety seconds.

Scheduled discussions among visitors, facilitated by trained docents, will take place daily inside the gallery. On weekends, representatives from NGOs committed to improving conditions for women locally and worldwide will share accounts of their work, initiate dialogue with the public, and discuss ways that visitors can make a difference. These include American Jewish World Service, CARE, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, International Justice Mission, Jewish World Watch, and Peace Over Violence.


Exhibition Themes

Women Hold Up Half the Sky is designed to engage the public in global and local issues affecting women and girls. Like the book, the exhibition puts forth a compelling argument: when women gain access to credit, health care, and education, their communities become healthier, more prosperous, and more just.

Individual Stories—Visitors will be introduced to the exhibition’s key messages through personal narratives. On display will be photographs—many of them taken by Kristof himself and never before exhibited—film clips, graphics, and objects that illustrate some of the many stories included in Kristof and WuDunn’s book. Among those profiled will be Goretti Nyabenda, who was beaten by her husband and largely confined to her home in Burundi until she received a $2 microloan, built a banana beer business, and became a leader in her community. Works by noted photographers Jenny Matthews, Sonya Melescu, Lisa Rico, and Les Stone will also be featured in the exhibition.

The Challenges—Giving context to these individual profiles, the exhibition will describe the tremendous challenges facing women worldwide, including slave labor and forced prostitution (“Human trafficking ranks behind only weapons and drugs in worldwide revenues related to criminal activity”), gender-based violence (“About one third of all women worldwide face beatings in the home”), and other forms of discrimination and inequality.

The Opportunities—The message of Women Hold Up Half the Sky is ultimately a hopeful one. Tales of hardship will be accompanied by stories of women who have transformed their lives, often with support from programs in microfinance, health care, and education. Real-world examples of successful initiatives by international NGOs such as CARE, Tostan, and Women for Women International (WFWI) will show the value of social action. Visitors will learn, for example, that through an innovative program that connects sponsors personally with survivors in war-torn countries, WFWI has made it possible for more than 300,000 women to receive job training, rights awareness, and leadership training. On average, each woman’s daily income has increased four-fold after completing WFWI’s one-year program. Through such case studies, the exhibition emphasizes that change is possible, and that whether one chooses to participate locally or globally, individual efforts can have major impact.

A Local Perspective —Despite the prosperity and equality that women have attained in the United States, many of the difficult issues explored in Women Hold Up Half the Sky confront the local community as well. The exhibition will shed light on several startling facts: that trafficking and sexual slavery are prominent in North America and that Los Angeles is one of the top entry points for trafficking victims in the United States.

Presented in association with Women Hold Up Half the Sky, the exhibition Pearls of Wisdom: End the Violence tackles the critical social issue of domestic violence. Conceived by renowned L.A.-based artist Kim Abeles, the exhibition is the result of a community art-making project in which survivors of domestic abuse across California recast personal memories of abuse and assault into pearl-like, iridescent objects. The exhibition was organized by Venice, CA–based organization A Window Between Worlds, the only national nonprofit dedicated to using art to end domestic violence. It opened at the Skirball on September 13, 2011, and runs through February 26, 2012.

Visitor ActionWomen Hold Up Half the Sky will provide visitors with in-gallery opportunities to take action on behalf of women and girls.

As part of a partnership between the Skirball, joinFITE (Financial Independence through Entrepreneurship, a program powered by and championed by skin care brand Dermalogica), and the DNA Foundation, visitors will be invited to affect the lives of women entrepreneurs around the world. Each visitor will be able to log on to the joinFITE platform (using tablet computers stationed inside the gallery) and direct a $1 loan to a woman of the visitor’s choice. Participants can then choose to connect with their chosen entrepreneurs, receive e-mail updates on their progress, and trace the impact the microloan makes over time. Loans will be funded courtesy of joinFITE champion partner Dermalogica. The microloans will have a powerful ripple effect, empowering women to develop skills, provide for their families, and use economic development to improve their lives and escape the cycle of poverty.

Visitors will be able to gather ideas for additional actions to take after their visit, such as donating supplies to local trafficking survivors, assembling a gardening kit to help a woman increase her income, and joining relevant nonprofit organizations. A computer station will provide access to, which identifies many more opportunities and resources. Finally, postcards to Congress regarding pertinent legislation will be available to visitors, to be mailed by the Skirball on their behalf.


Holiday Pop-Up Shop

In conjunction with Women Hold Up Half the Sky and commemorating 2012 as the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives, Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball will present a “holiday pop-up shop” of handcrafted goods from women’s cooperatives and female artisans from around the world. Purchases will support more than seventy-five organizations that promote gender equality in developing nations, helping women entrepreneurs provide for their families, educate their children, and pass on deep-rooted artistic and cultural traditions. The pop-up shop will be open October 27–December 31. Most items will also be available online at

Click here to view a catalogue of items available in the pop-up shop. (PDF)

Kristof and WuDunn’s book Half the Sky will also be available for purchase at Audrey’s.


Related Public and School Programs

During the run of the exhibition, the Skirball will present thematically related lectures and discussions, classes, film screenings, and music, dance, and theater performances. Among the programs are concerts by acclaimed female musicians, including Riffat Sultana and Adaawe; a production of ENGLAND, written by and starring esteemed British playwright Tim Crouch; screenings of films that explore relevant themes, including the Emmy-winning A Walk to Beautiful; and a discussion with representatives from and Relief International on the topic of microfinance. As part of its extensive outreach to local schools, the Skirball will also offer interactive programs for students in Grades 8–12. These will invite students to reflect upon and discuss issues presented in the exhibition.

Click here to view the complete line-up of related public and school programs. (PDF)



The William C. Bannerman Foundation
Jo Bernard
The Boeing Company
Carsey Family Foundation
Commonwealth Cares Fund, Inc.
Rebekah and Howard Farber
Phyllis K. Friedman
Girl Effect
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Jewish World Watch
joinFITE and Dermalogica
Miriam Muscarolas and Grant Abramson
Eileen Harris Norton Foundation
Eugene and Ruth Roberts
Fredric M. Roberts
Roth Family Foundation
Ariane and Alienor Sauvage
Southern California Gas Company
Specialty Family Foundation
Julie Waxman and Seth Freeman
Women’s Foundation of California 

89.3 KPCC
LA Yoga
Los Angeles magazine


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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