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TEDxJohannesburg Talk: Genes and Memes
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TEDxJohannesburg Talk: Genes and Memes


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These are the slides from my TEDxJohannesburg talk. Because there is very little copy, they won't make a lot of sense - but all the paintings here were done in lipstick. You can find the text of the …

These are the slides from my TEDxJohannesburg talk. Because there is very little copy, they won't make a lot of sense - but all the paintings here were done in lipstick. You can find the text of the talk here:

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  • The egg is a repository of genetic informaton as well as a powerful symbol of new beginnings.
  • History across the millennia. The Goddess Ishtar.
  • From Roman culture, the interest in eggs spread into early Christian culture. There’s a Greek Orthodox legend which has it that Mary Magdalene took cooked eggs to the tomb of Christ.
  • And now, more recently, eggs have come to play an important symbolic role in something else. On Twitter, we all start out as eggs.  Some of us say things like “I don’t follow eggs” and we all know what this means.  On Twitter, an egg is a symbol of a non entity, of someone who has yet to establish an identity. We don’t value the opinions of eggs.  It’s quite appropriate, to have this link with eggs. Twitter is a wonderful creative tool.
  • As it happens, my Twitter persona – chosen randomly four years ago – is the duckbilled platypus, one of only two mammal species that lays eggs.   
  • So it’s entirely appropriate that it was Twitter that gave me the idea for this talk. This is the tweet that inspired it. There you have it: the egg, painted in lipstick.
  • Which b rings me to the chicken. Why is this particular chicken so meaningful to me? To explain, I have to turn back to my failed marriage.
  • This is a painting of my marriage. It was inspired by this scene from The Right Stuff, a movie which influenced me a great deal as a kid.  Back in 2008, when I lost my job, my then husband said to me: “Let’s use the recession to have a child!”  And a cold shiver ran down my spine. I thought: I can’t be with this man for the next 20 years.  So I said no.
  • The point is that I don’t have children, and that I am never going to. I am never going to pass on my genes. But that doesn’t mean I can’t pass on my memes. My ideas. My powers to create. Because, ironically, it was thanks to my ex- husband that I paint with lipstick, and as far as I can tell, I am the only person in the world who uses it quite like this.
  • It started back in 2002. I had quit my job to finish my PhD. Actually, not finish my PhD. Why do it today when you can write that chapter in 3 years’ time?
  • My then husband, an architect, was overseas looking for work. He had left a whole lot of cardboard lying around, which he used to create architectural models.
  • I had lipstick. Somehow, cardboard and lipstick led to
  • This… My husband heard about what I was up to while he was in the UK, and he was worried that I was doing feminist vagina art. This is feminist – it’s a painting about the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve – but there are no vaginas in it as far as I can tell.
  • That’s how the lipstick painting started. Catalysed, quite accidentally, by my ex-husband.
  • So I carried on. Lipstick is inherently limiting. For a long time, I painted subjects like this. Anything that came in red or pink.
  • Years later, I painted a cityscape as a gift as part of a campaign I was involved in.
  • That led to this.I painted this while I was having a panic attack – later I sold it, somewhat ironically, to an Australian.
  • And this after I discovered black lipstick. Thank you to the Goths of Joburg – I don’t know what I would do without you.
  • This is the lady who sells it to me. I’m her best customer.
  • I’ve painted bulls.
  • Cats
  • Rhinos
  • I’ve discovered that you don’t have to paint in red or pink.
  • I’ve sold art to raise funds for Home of Hope
  • I’ve raised funds for Lawyers Against Abuse
  • Even the cats have got involved.
  • Most importantly, I have created meaning for others. Last week, a Twitter friend’s wife, who is in her 30s, suffered from a stroke. She is in hospital in a coma, so I painted this for them. I am happy that I can do this for something else. Connect over time and space, through Twitter. This is good. This makes me happy.
  • The chicken, in some ways, led to the egg. My husband has remarried, and has two children. I may not have passed on my genes. But I can pass on my memes. My ideas. In all of this randomness, all of this pain, I have discovered the singular power of creation. I can make meaning, and that is what matters.
  • I can create something that matters. My imagination can soar.
  • Because, in the end, all we have is our stories, and all we can do is tell them as best we can. Thank you for listening to mine.
  • Transcript

    • 1. A Story of a Chicken and an Egg By Sarah Britten
    • 2. Ornithorhyncus anatinus @Anatinus
    • 3. + = +
    • 4. Pulse of the City
    • 5. Panic
    • 6. The Tower of Babel
    • 7. The Red Bull
    • 8. Kipling in Johannesburg The Cat Who Walked By Himself
    • 9. Kipling in Johannesburg How the Rhino Got His Skin
    • 10. Kipling in Johannesburg How the Leopard Changed His Spots
    • 11. The End