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.”
Kim is frank about what a community art project like Pearls of Wisdom can and can’t do: “I didn’t want to take the subject and make something warm and fuzzy or make an easy object lesson from it. The goal was and is ending violence, rather than seeing the participants as victims, or saying, ‘Let’s make you feel better about what happened,’ because that never gets anybody anywhere.”
She continued, “The pearls—the wisdom they give—ended up being strikingly empowering. What is the core message for the individual, not the one that society tells you to think? That’s where art is useful: to go beyond clichés. Dealing with a person’s individual story can be tricky, because you want people to be open about what happened, but on the other hand, you don’t want them to get consumed by that story or let it define them. At that point, you don’t even need the abuser. You’ve just internalized the abuse.”
Kim Abeles gives an artist’s talk about Pearls of Wisdom, which was a collaboration with local organization A Window Between Worlds, and her numerous community-based artworks this Sunday, January 22, 2:30 p.m. at the Skirball.