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'Half the Sky' exhibition hopes to inspire action

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Skirball Museum director Robert Kirschner calls the show “not really an art exhibition. It’s not a collection of artifacts. It’s about ideas. It’s really about social conscience and focusing on certain issues and engaging a broad community.”

Turning a book dense with horrifying statistics (like the statement that more girls are killed in “routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century”) into a visual experience was a daunting task. “How to make an exhibition without making it exhibitionistic?” Mr. Kirschner poses the dilemma.

The Skirball, dedicated to promoting a pluralistic society in which all are accorded dignity, is not a human rights organization. For the exhibition, the Jewish cultural center partnered with advocacy groups and nongovernmental organizations with expertise in the area.

The advisory committee stressed the danger of appearing paternalistic, even if well-intentioned, if the show featured social injustice in less privileged nations without highlighting local women’s leadership in setting an example of courage. More than statistics of atrocities, the show spotlights individuals who transform lives through activism.

“My primary goal was to inspire visitors to be moved and to take action,” Ms. White says. She balances emotional impact – like a wall of silhouetted women waiting to tell their stories of mass rape in the Congo – with images and text showing change is occurring. The West African group Tostan, for example, has educated women to end the centuries-old tradition of female genital cutting in 5,000 villages in Senegal.

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