Mamak Khadem: Connecting the Old to the New, One Culture to Another

It was 1994, and I was living in New York. One night, as I tuned into a radio program called “Hearts of Space,” I heard a song that stopped me right in my tracks. On the air was a Los Angeles–based band called Axiom of Choice. Though distinctly Persian, the music was nothing like I had heard before. It was innovative, a perfect fusion between classical Persian and modern sounds, between East and West. I was hooked. The band defined a new sound in Persian music and has influenced many musicians of the younger generation.

Acclaimed solo artist Mamak Khadem—who will perform at the Skirball on International Women’s Day,
March 8—was the frontwoman of progressive world music band Axiom of Choice, a personal favorite of
mine for years. In this clip, the trio performs their beloved tune “Valeh.”

The vocals in particular were arresting. I did some research and found out that the singer was Mamak Khadem. A couple of years later, I moved to Los Angeles, where I had the opportunity to connect with the band and become friends with Mamak. Continue reading

Goods That Do Good at Audrey’s: It’s All About the Stories

Raven + Lily co-founders Sophia Lin and Kirsten Dickerson discuss why they felt compelled to work with
women in impoverished communities and how consumers themselves are empowered by purchases that benefit communities in need. Sophia will be previewing Raven + Lily’s spring 2012 collection at a trunk show hosted by Audrey’s Museum Store on April 20–22.

Just north of the capital of Ethiopia is a mountain region known as the Entoto Mountains, a place where villagers believe lies a cure for HIV. Ostracized by their families and communities, many HIV-positive Ethiopian women leave behind their hometowns to come to the Entoto Mountains in the hope that they will be made healthy again. Many of them, unfortunately, end up with no way to support themselves once they arrive at this new place.

Raven + Lily necklaceBut there is some hope for these women thanks to socially responsible jewelry and gift brand Raven + Lily and the Entoto Project. This initiative provides HIV education and healthcare to Ethiopian women while also offering sustainable employment. The women of the Entoto Project create beautiful jewelry, like this necklace (pictured at right), using beads made out of vintage coins and artillery shells from past tribal conflicts. As they say at Raven + Lily, “what was once intended for harm now brings hope and life.”

It is stories like these that made the Women Hold Up Half the Sky Holiday Pop-Up Shop—which was open to visitors during gift-giving season—such a meaningful endeavor. For me, what is moving about goods that do good is their potential to empower both the artisan and the customer. The artisans are able to improve conditions for themselves and their families, fulfilling basic needs and building a better future for the entire community; the customers (or “smart buyers,” as Katy Leakey of our Beads for Learning vendor, The Leakey Collection, calls them) are able to make more socially conscious purchases that can make a difference in the lives of others.

Making a difference was the inspiration for the Skirball’s decision to mount the exhibition—and, by extension, to organize a related Holiday Pop-Up Shop. As it turned out, many thousands of visitors were happy to “shop for the cause” and help champion opportunities for women to make a sustainable living. To keep the momentum going, Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball will continue to carry, well into the future, beautifully handcrafted merchandise from women’s cooperatives and fair-trade organizations around the world. I couldn’t be more proud! Continue reading

Bunking Up Aboard the Ark

I’m no camper. The platform wedges that I wear religiously and the complete absence of sweatshirts from my wardrobe give me away. So you can imagine that I was a little uneasy about the prospect of spending a night “camping” at the Skirball with my seven-year-old daughter, Georgia, as an attendee at one of the first Skirball family sleepovers.

Noah's Ark Sleepover bed setup

With folk-art Noah’s Arks “sailing” above them, my daughter, Georgia (left), and her good friend Gillian (in sparkly hat) get ready to say good night at a Skirball family sleepover. You don’t have to rough it if sleeping bags aren’t your thing. Airbeds welcome!

More accurately, I was ambivalent about it. While the idea of shimmying into my jammies in a setting far, far more public than the comfort of my own home gave me the willies, I was genuinely excited to experience Noah’s Ark at the Skirball from the perspective of a nighttime inhabitant. As project director for Noah’s Ark, I’d been closely involved in bringing it to life, and I love it on a visceral level (insofar as one can feel that way about a museum space). The thought of taking part in a nocturnal Noah’s Ark experience with my own daughter, who came into this world as the project itself was being born, was a thrilling prospect.

I’ll confess that Georgia and I didn’t start off as model campers. Soon after checking in, we trundled off to choose our sleeping quarters on the ark along with other families. Spotting what we agreed was the perfect spot—a cozy corner beneath a display of Skirball folk-art ark vessels from around the world—we unpacked our gear and set up camp. Minutes after I’d inflated our air mattress (yes, of course I brought one), Georgia happily flopped back onto it, shouting, “This is the life!” But then, with panic and dismay, I watched our bed deflate pitifully… with Georgia still lying on top. We were forced to sleep directly on the gallery’s wooden floorboards that night, which gave me a new understanding of the term Not a happy camper (though my daughter slept like a baby). Continue reading

Making Sure the Kids Are Alright

The Skirball is full of parents. I see them pushing strollers, picking up sippy cups, and chaperoning elementary school groups. But I have a hunch that another set of parents is lurking in the shadows. They are the mothers and fathers of teenagers. They probably try not to go anywhere with their kids who are between the ages of twelve and eighteen.

Primetime hit Modern Family illustrates the highs and lows of raising kids. When Haley brings home her boyfriend, parents Phil and Claire straddle the fine line between playing cool and protecting their daughter. Moms and dads are welcome to bring real-life scenarios like this one to our upcoming seminar on parenting teens.

Our society focuses on teens in many funny and entertaining ways. Even though I am well beyond parenting a teenager, one of my favorite comic strips is Zits, which follows the adolescent adventures of a high school freshman and would-be musician named Jeremy. Creators Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman totally get the joys and challenges of being a teen and parenting a teen. Teens are also the focus of many popular TV shows, including Modern Family, Parenthood, and Gossip Girl. We have seen children grow up on television—the best example being The Wonder Years, in my opinion—while Lisa and Bart Simpson remain perpetual pre-teens.

On a more serious note, the October cover story of National Geographic was entitled The New Science of the Teenage Brain, which offered great insight on the “impulsive, moody, maddening” behavior of a typical teen. Meanwhile, in its January 26 “The Saturday Essay,” The Wall Street Journal published What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind?. This much-commented-upon (and highly tweeted) article noted that “children today reach puberty earlier and adulthood later. The result: A lot of teenage weirdness.” Oh my! Continue reading

Building the Sky

For years I have longed to make full use of our museum galleries’ great ceiling spaces. With the exhibition Women Hold Up Half the Sky, we not only had the chance to do something special with the Getty Gallery “sky,” as it were, but our first-ever opportunity to integrate the full play of daylight within the space into the design. The team jumped right on board with the idea and began to think of different ways we could use the ceiling not only as a visual element but as an interactive component that would add to the show’s content as well.

View of the sky in the Women Hold Up Half the Sky gallery

This is how Wish Canopy, a commissioned work by architectural office Layer, is looking these days. Colorful and luminous.

The Los Angeles–based architecture practice Layer was approached to create an installation that would somehow represent the sky. One major inspiration was Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree project. For Wish Tree, people are invited to write their personal wishes for peace and tie them to a tree branch. The fact that our “sky” would be mostly out of reach of visitors precluded a hands-on interaction with the artwork in the same manner as for Wish Tree. Nonetheless we wanted the installation to be more than a sculpture and provide an outlet for creative and affective responses to the exhibition’s content.

Consulting curator Karina White (left) and Layer co-founder Lisa Little discuss prototypes in Layer’s offices in Venice.

The team came up with the idea of inviting each visitor to write down a wish for girls and women around the world and have it added to a “sky of wishes.” The resulting sculpture, which would transform over time, would give visual testament to the power of collective action to effect change. Continue reading