Hummingbird Rescue to the Rescue!

Make-shift hummingbird nest

Nestled into a makeshift “nest,” pieced together from materials we used for a recent art project, two baby hummingbirds found on campus seemed to float in a pink cottony cloud.

I manage the staff and operations of Noah’s Ark at the Skirball, so responding to a lost child or a spill on the gallery floor is no problem. Knowing what to do with two tiny, helpless birds unable to feed themselves or fly? That is not in my handbook.

So, when I was at my desk recently and heard that two hummingbird babies were found in the grass near the rainbow mist arbor, I groaned. The Skirball is situated right in the Santa Monica Mountains, so living amid wildlife—snakes, lizards, spiders, foxes, raccoons—is expected. It’s not unusual to encounter a family of deer standing majestically in the arroyo garden when I’m heading out to my car after work. I kindly leave them alone, and they kindly leave me alone. But when we encounter an injured animal right in our backyard, we can’t very well leave it alone.

Quite fortuitously one of our Noah’s Ark gallery educators is a trained, licensed wildlife rehabilitator. When faced with an injured animal, she’s been kind enough to oblige and whisk the animal off to safety until she’s done teaching. But this doesn’t make for good practice, and I knew that we needed to take her off the hook for responding. Coming up with a protocol had been on my to-do list, but I had not yet thought it through. So here I was, groaning because it had come up… again. Continue reading

“Unapologetic Agitations” by Modern Dance Artist Nora Chipaumire

Nora Chipaumire: Zimbabwean native, Bessie Award winner, and 2011 USA Ford Fellow. Photo by Antoine Tempe.

Although I’d heard about choreographer/dancer and 2011 USA Ford Fellow Nora Chipaumire for several years, it wasn’t until the summer of 2006 that I saw her perform for myself. It was at Bytom, Poland’s XIII Annual International Contemporary Dance Conference and Performance Festival. Nora’s master classes in modern and African dance created a buzz among both the students and her fellow teachers, and the solos I saw her perform were transfixing. Both works—Convoys, Curfews, and Roadblocks and Dark Swan—demonstrated not just her physical prowess, but also an intriguing intellect. These will be presented as part of her evenings of performance at the Skirball this weekend.

Nora will also give a sneak preview of a substantial excerpt-in-progress from her latest solo work, Miriam, which employs the music of Miriam Makeba (1932–2008). Widely known by her nickname, “Mama Afrika,” Makeba was an exiled South African musician who brought the realities of apartheid into the living rooms of music fans around the world. While Miriam examines the burden of representing a culture to a larger society, it’s not meant to be a biography of Makeba. Instead, it draws inspiration from Makeba’s life story, as well as from Chipaumire’s own experiences as a self-exiled Zimbabwean.

Click on the image above to see a snippet of Nora performing Convoys, Curfews, and Roadblocks. At the Skirball, she’ll perform inside our spacious Milken Gallery.

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Shalom, We’ve Been Waiting for You… and We Have a Few Questions

Hope: A Tragedy book coverFor the past few years, several colleagues have repeatedly asked me to schedule Shalom Auslander to speak at the Skirball, suggesting him for this program or that, and sending around his hilarious, irreverent Tablet Magazine articles and essays. So when his publicist called a few months ago to tell me about Auslander’s book tour in support of his debut novel, Hope: A Tragedy, I didn’t have to think twice. Yes, of course we would like to have him speak! Auslander is a prolific writer, known for his story collection, Beware of God; his memoir, Foreskin’s Lament; and his regular contributions to Tablet, This American Life, GQ, The Guardian, and The New York Times. But he had yet to publish a novel. The world has been waiting! So much so that I really couldn’t disagree with his publisher’s proclamation that the publication of Hope: A Tragedy is a “highly-anticipated literary event.” It is! For those who are familiar with Auslander’s work, the novel features his trademark edginess, dark humor, and outlandish characters and situations. There’s also a deep underlying insight. Janet Maslin does a great job of discussing the book’s themes in her New York Times review.

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Kim Abeles Talks Art, Community, and Change

A Pearl of Wisdom on the gallery wall

I pass through the exhibition Pearls of Wisdom: End the Violence every day. I am always moved by the “pearls of wisdom” that the participants have shared as part of the project. The one above strikes me as particularly heartfelt and true.
Photo by Peter Turman.

Interconnections and interdependency lie at the heart of acclaimed Los Angeles–based artist Kim Abeles’ work, both in her community-based projects like Pearls of Wisdom: End the Violence, now on display at the Skirball, and in her fascinating environmental work. I had the chance to chat with Kim recently and find out a little about how she approaches her art.

For Kim, process is the most important part of any work she does, whether alone, in the community, or with collaborators. She told me, “The result is always a surprise. The unexpected connections that you discover along the way have the most impact on both the artist and the viewer. For Pearls of Wisdom, it was most important to look for ways to engage in conversation about the topic of domestic violence, because most people don’t want to address it. Some people get emotional about the show as a result of it touching their own history. Taken in its entirety, you can feel and see that Pearls of Wisdom is a chorus of people, all of them standing up and standing their ground.” Continue reading

Gallery Visitor Jane Roberts Seeking 34 Million Friends

Women Hold up Half the Sky has been attracting a lot of amazing folks who are involved in organizations that work on behalf of women and girls. On any given day, we seem to bump into activists exploring the exhibition and sharing stories during their visits.

One day, a Skirball docent stopped me in the hallway to tell me that a woman “who was in the book”—that is, Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky—was in the gallery. The docent was referring to Jane Roberts, who is featured prominently in chapter 8 on family planning and maternal health. I went to the galleries to welcome Jane to the Skirball and to learn more about her remarkable life’s work.

Hear Jane Roberts talk about her impactful 34 Million Friends movement,
“I believe that when the world takes care of women, women take care of the world.”

Jane shared that she was upset to learn that during President George W. Bush’s first administration, the U.S. was withholding $34 million from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) because of false claims that the organization funded coercive abortions as part of its family planning program. UNFPA does much to help women by promoting reproductive health, prenatal care, and safe deliveries. Jane felt that something should be done to restore the withheld funds so that women needing maternity resources could receive them.

In 2002, Jane started a movement, working with another incensed American, Lois Abraham, to raise the missing $34 million. They are asking people to donate one dollar each. To date, 34 Million Friends of UNFPA has raised over $4 million that goes directly to UNFPA. In 2005, in recognition of their efforts and accomplishments, Jane and Lois were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize! Continue reading

Vent D’Ouest Klezmer Band: Two Guitars and Then Some

Vent D’Ouest’s two guitarists drive the band’s rhythms and impressed the audience at the International Jewish Music Festival last year. Here’s a quick snap of them plucking away on one guitar simultaneously!

The International Jewish Music Festival (or, as the Dutch call it, the Joods Muziek Festival) takes place across Holland every October. This past year, I was fortunate to attend, and I caught a stand-out performance in the city of Utrecht, at the Merkaz Cultural Center, by the French klezmer ensemble Vent D’Ouest. Merkaz was an interesting destination in itself: it was a Jewish orphanage before World War II. Representing the liberal Jewish community of Utrecht, the Merkaz Foundation was lucky to snag one of the few local buildings that had any Jewish history.

A quartet of French talents, Vent D’Ouest has an unusual make-up for a klezmer group. The band features clarinet and accordion, as expected, but then there’s the unlikely addition of two guitars. Together the four members, all natural showmen, performed a lively set, clever in how they urged the audience to snap and clap along.

In the end, it is their playing that really counts, and the band’s musicianship is solid. What Vent D’Ouest offers is far from the standard wedding schtick, managing to bring in a strong jazz vibe from the clarinet and weaving snippets of popular tunes, like the Mission: Impossible theme, into more standard melodies. I doubt anyone else is playing a mix of “Hava Nagila” and “Bamboleo” (which, given klezmer’s links to the Balkans, is not so far-fetched as it might sound at first). Continue reading

Adaawe: “Put Your Ear to the Earth and Listen”

The cover of our Jan/Feb At the Skirball program guide makes me happy every time I catch sight of it on my desk. Featured is an action shot (see below) of just one of the drummers of the all-woman percussion ensemble Adaawe. For me, it completely captures the energy of the women as they drum and sing themselves and their audiences into a state of joy.

Anindo Marshall of Adaawe beats the West African instrument known as the djembe, just one of many drum types used by the band. Photo by Edward Huckle.

I first experienced Adaawe’s music live last spring, at a USC conference on immigration issues hosted by USC’s Center for Immigrant Integration. I had serious business to attend to at the event, but I had no choice but to give myself over to the high energy of Adaawe’s seven women. They wove a soulful mix of West African, R&B, pop, Gospel, and funk rhythms that was completely compelling. In the moment, it was easy to give up analytic thought and conversation for the deep pleasure of Adaawe’s vocalists and percussionists. Continue reading

An Afternoon with Edna Adan

Edna Adan Ismail views the section of the exhibition that tells her story and describes the impactful work that her hospital does to promote maternal and infant health. Photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

When Edna Adan Ismail, founder of the pioneering Edna Adan University Hospital in Somaliland, walked into Women Hold Up Half the Sky a few weeks ago, she exclaimed to the crowd of visitors who had gathered to see her, “I am very emotional by the way, so if I get emotional, bear with me.” She walked through the gallery, half a world away from her home in Hargeisa, and took in the stories and images of her life on display. Edna did get emotional. And impassioned. And I did, too.

As I learned in chapter seven of Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, one woman dies from childbirth every minute somewhere in the world. The personal narratives they share in the book put a face to that statistic, making every heartbreaking word worth the read.

In a country like Somaliland, Kristof and WuDunn write that there are four main factors that account for such grim maternal mortality: biology, lack of schooling, lack of rural health systems, and disregard for women. This only makes it that much more impressive that against all odds Edna learned to read and write even when there were no schools for girls; was the first Somali girl to earn a scholarship to study abroad in Britain; trained to become the first qualified nurse-midwife; served as First Lady of Somalia while her husband served as Prime Minister; had a career at the World Health Organization; held the position of Foreign Minister of Somaliland; and finally reached her lifelong goal of founding and administering a hospital. Being in her presence is inspiring, and I feel proud to know that she is out there fighting for every woman’s right to good health care and education. Continue reading