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L.A. Museum Developing Notorious R.B.G Exhibit Based On Your Favorite Supreme Court Justice

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—pioneering lawyer, feminist cult icon, and now the subject of a museum exhibition? Yes, it seems that dreams do come true.

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(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
L.A.'s own Skirball Cultural Center announced earlier this week that they are in the process of developing an exhibition centered on everyone's favorite Supreme Court justice, based on the bestselling book Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The exhibition is being created in partnership with the book's co-authors, Irin Carmon, a national reporter at MSNBC, and attorney Shana Knizhnik, who founded the popular Tumblr that earned Ginsburg Internet fame. Much like the book, the exhibit will offer a visually rich look at the Ginsburg's life and career, showcasing a unique take on both the American legal system and civil rights movement, as seen through the lens of Ginsburg's life and service. And the Skirball reports that, "In keeping with the spirit of Carmon and Knizhnik’s book, the exhibition will [continue to] riff off the playful connection between the Justice and Notorious B.I.G. (as she likes to point out, they were both born and bred in Brooklyn, New York)." For starters, the name of each gallery section in the exhibition will allude to a song or lyric from the late hip-hop artist. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait a while before you can explore Ginsburg's life at the Skirball—the exhibition is still in its proto stages, and not set to open to the public until October 2018. But even a two-year wait can't temper our excitement. We spoke to Skirball curator Cate Thurston and Notorious RBG co-author Irin Carmon for an early look at the bounty to come.

"The idea for the exhibition was generated by our museum community," Thurston told LAist. "Someone brought the book to our attention, and we all read it and loved it. We reached out to Irin and Shana and we started talking to them, they thought an exhibit was a really cool idea."

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"We never really thought about a museum exhibition until the folks at the Skirball got in touch with us," Carmon told LAist. The book, which was released last year and has sold more than 160,000 copies, grew out of a Tumblr created by Carmon's co-author, Shana Knizhnik.

"Shana started the Notorious RBG [Tumblr] one day out of frustration at the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act. She was so inspired by Justice Ginsburg's dissent in that case that she started a Tumblr to celebrate her," Carmon told LAist. "Nothing like it had existed on the internet before. And I think what's so great about the phenomenon—Supreme Court justices are not usually the stuff of memes or tattoos, but it organically caught on. Nobody planned this, this was no marketing theme. It was just Shana thinking that Justice Ginsburg was a badass. And it caught on, and other people at the same time were creating Justice Ginsburg memes."

Carmon said that when they teamed up to write the book, "what we were thinking about is people are so hungry to see images of righteous women, and this woman doesn't look like how you'd expect a superhero to look. She's older, at an age where people really render women invisible, she's a tiny Jewish grandmother, she's a lawyer... But the way that she was using her position of power—and as we explored further in the book, her life history of litigating and fighting on behalf of marginalized people, especially women—really lent itself to celebration."

Thurston told LAist that what she and the Skirball team loved about the book, aside from it highlighting Ginsburg's work and mission, is that it's "an exhibit created by the people."

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"It's borne out of a meme," Thurston said, "So we're really listening to our community and then creating an exhibit based around their interests."

She told LAist that they are looking to have "a really dynamic balance of historic artifacts, contemporary art, and interactives, which is just a fancy way of saying stuff people can touch and engage with and perhaps listen to, or create and add to."

"That part definitely has to be fleshed out a little bit more fully," she said. "But there will be lots of opportunities for people to play and touch and explore. Our hope is that we create a truly interdisciplinary exhibition." Both Thurston and Carmon also hope to feature real artifacts from Ginsburg's life.

"We're using the book as a starting point," Carmon said, "But we have an opportunity to include never-before-seen images and objects. And also experiences, like virtual reality or commissioning new work. We're really looking forward to learning from the curators at the Skirball."

Interestingly, we asked both Carmon and Thurston during separate phone calls if they had a dream object they'd like to include, and each had the same answer: a jabot from the Supreme Court justice's collection. For those unfamiliar with high court lingo, jabots are the fancy, typically lacy, collars worn with a justice's robes.

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"I would love one of her jabots, perhaps either a real one, or maybe a replica one that visitors can try on," Thurston said. Carmon was a bit more specific, telling LAist that "Justice Ginsburg has a particular jabot that she wears for dissenting that's kind of spiky. Our dream item would be to have that in the exhibit, and she wouldn't need it herself because she would be in the majority." Yes, please.

"We really want this exhibition to come alive. We're thinking of ways to physicalize some of these elements. What I can say, without having a hard confirmed element now, is that there will be a lot of place for people to engage with her life and this larger history of American civil rights in a very physical and playful way," Thurston told LAist.

And what about the Notorious RBG, herself? How does she feel about the exhibition in the works? Thurston told us that America's favorite Supreme Court justice is very much onboard. Thurston said that she and the museum's chief curator crafted a letter to Justice Ginsburg, which Irin and Shana passed along, and Ginsburg responded to their letter with a letter of her own.

"I have heard many good things about the Skirball and would be pleased to see Notorious RBG adapted into an exhibition," Ginsburg wrote back, according to the Huffington Post.

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"We were very honored that she's excited about the exhibition," Thurston said.

And for those who can't wait until 2018 for their dose of the Notorious RBG, Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik will be talking about the book and its transformative subject with Call Your Girlfriend's Aminatou Sow on Sunday, October 23 at the Skirball. Tickets can be purchased here.