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'Half the Sky' exhibition hopes to inspire action

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White also commissioned new artworks to illustrate the themes, like sound recordings by artist Ben Rubin of local women trafficked and held in domestic slavery or forced into prostitution. (An estimated 10,000 women are held in Los Angeles underground brothels, according to immigration agents, and thousands are forced into labor without pay or hope of escape.) Survivors tell their stories, like a 33-year-old Kenyan woman who finally escaped to a shelter, saying in a soft, halting voice: “All we have to do is be strong.”

A lobby installation features the well-known Los Angeles artist Kim Abeles’s “Pearls of Wisdom: End the Violence.” During a two-year community-engagement collaboration, Ms. Abeles worked with domestic-violence survivors in shelters, producing 800 pearlescent sculptures, a small sample of which are shown.

The project serves as a metaphor for the exhibition, since abused women turned their trauma into objects of beauty and hope. Each began with a symbol of abuse, encircled by yarn, strips of bandages, plaster, and paint. “I realize the power and strength women have, but you also can’t ignore the challenges worldwide,” Abeles says. Calling those who escape domestic violence “champions,” she adds, “I’m not hot on the idea of thinking of women as just victims.” Each woman offers advice, ranging from the practical: “Always keep spare keys,” to the urgent, “If he wants you to be perfect, run ... run now!”

“It was important to pair with domestic violence here in our own community,” White notes, and to give voice and visibility to local struggles.

The design of the exhibition catalyzes visitors to express reactions. A cloudlike “Wish Canopy,” designed by the Los Angeles architecture firm Layer, overarches the exhibit floor. Composed of interlocking ovoid spaces, the canopy is gradually filling with viewers’ wishes for other women written on pink, lavender, and blue paper.

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