As a young child, I discovered Mums had left her makeup drawer open. I dragged across a nearby chair and clambered up eagerly. I stared down at Mums’ makeup in delight. There were all her lipsticks. They seemed to positively glow and jostle up at me invitingly. My little hand reached out for the brightest red one I could see. Countless times, I had watched Mums put this on her lips. They had looked luscious and inviting. She kissed me very gently, so as not to leave a mark on me, before going out with Dad for the evening. Now Mums was out and her lipsticks were gazing up at me. ‘Try me! Go on, try me!’ they seemed to say.
I wouldn’t be as good as Mums at putting it on, I thought. She had more practice. But now it was my turn. When I had finished I looked a bit like Bozo, the clown that I had seen at a circus recently. That was great looking like Bozo, I decided. It was as if I were putting on a disguise. He also had lovely big red cheeks, didn’t he? The cheeks were then painted on with relish. Yes, I was looking more and more like Bozo. I went to work on my eyes and eyebrows. I looked really magnificently clownish. Little did I know that lipstick would play such a vital role in my future as an actress!
My brother came in, took a look at me and said with gleeful delight: “I have just heard Mum’s car come up the driveway. You are going to get into so much trouble!.”
The lipstick that I had painted my entire face with, was not an easy thing to get off! My bottom ached for a long time from the hiding I received.
It was through my friend, Nisha’s Varghese’s Facebook post that I first saw these incredible lipstick paintings. Nisha has acute cerebral palsy, yet in spite of this she continues to make her life an adventure. She had been zip-lining in the Tsitsikamma forest in an attempt to show the world that anyone can take the ‘dis’ out of disability. I travelled up there to cheer her on. My heart lifted to see Nisha’s face as she was placed into the chair that would send her skimming from tree to tree. She has a big, wide smile that permanently lights up her being and greets what life offers readily. Following her forest adventure Nisha tweeted:
“Thank you to my Dad who taught me to fly!”
Sarah Britten, an artist, followed Nisha’s forest adventure on Twitter and was inspired by this comment. She decided to create a series of painting for Nisha in celebration of her birthday and to help her raise funds for two causes that are close to her heart, Jumping Kids and Miss Earth South Africa using….lipstick.
I think back to the my facial lipstick painting of my childhood as I stare at these lipstick paintings in awestruck incredulity. I love them. I look at Sarah’s final painting of Nisha as an angel with wings. Sarah is saying to Nisha: “This is how I see you. I don’t see the girl in the wheelchair. I see an angel with wings.”
I think that part of Sarah envies Nisha’s ability to fly. This is something we all should have – wings! Often we are afraid to do things in life, and refuse to take chances that present themselves. How much in our lives have we missed out on because we don’t realise our wings are there? We all have wings that must be used. Wings that will fly us to places we are afraid to go. Nisha, in her wheelchair, flies to places so many of us need to travel to!
Sarah is an artist living in Johannesburg, who uses lipstick like pastel crayons to create astounding paintings. Boredom, (she was meant to be working on her PhD thesis), a touch of procrastination, access to the cardboard her “ex” used to make his architectural manuals, lipsticks lying within easy reach and her first creation The Dying Rose was born! From then on, there was no stopping her. I don’t think her “ex” could have been too pleased to arrive home to a house devoid of his cardboard and these exquisite paintings standing in it’s stead!
Sarah’s art has changed quite dramatically since that first rose. “I’ve moved from fairly literal still life subjects to far more expressionist work. My work now includes subject matter like the Johannesburg skyline and wildlife.”
Looking at Sarah’s website, there are beautiful images of her work. An angel, a horse, a bull, the beseeching look of a lion cub, a horse galloping towards the face of a baby, a tiny unicorn looking out onto this wonderful, fiery expanse of a world. What is so marvellous is that there is a short story wonderfully written behind each painting. One of my favourites is entitled: The brave little lion. I was tremendously moved by the story behind this beautifully crafted image. Sarah writes:
When I was a little girl, the thing I was most afraid of, more than anything, was something bad happening to my mother. When I was six or seven years old and home sick from school, my mother started choking after an infection triggered a laryngospasm. She came to me gasping, panic in her eyes, and I banged and banged on her back to get her to breathe again. I knew that she might die, and that I was the only one there to save her, and I will never forget the terror that transfixed me.
So if I try, I can start to imagine what six year old Kutlwano Garesape must have felt last Friday morning when he saw a man attack his mother.
“Kutlwano slapped the man across the face and told him to let go of me. He kept on screaming . . . ‘Let go of my mommy, it is my mommy’ while slapping and kicking the man.”
He paid for his bravery with his life, strangled and stabbed and then dumped on a railway track, where he died in his mother’s arms.
There are so many stories like this, in shitty dorps where no one has any real hope of a better life, and where there are a probably a thousand explanations for the casual savagery of a man walking past a mother taking her children to school. But this story has cut through the fog of distraction. In amidst the relentless muck of cruelty and cynicism that scrolls down our screens, this story is somehow worse.
I couldn’t read this without weeping:
“I picked Kutlwano up and held him to my chest. He was full of blood and his hands were cut as he tried to defend himself. He told me to hold him and I sat down on the railway line and held him to my chest.
“He asked me to kiss him and I did. He then stretched out his hand to his brother.”
Whenever something in the news really gets to me, I find it easier to paint. Initially I imagined Kutlwano as a sun in the sky, smiling his dimpled smile forever, even though his life was stolen from him by some common or garden species of evil that felt entitled to take what it wanted. But I am not very good at painting faces, and lipstick is imprecise, so I destroyed the portrait in frustration and depicted a lion cub instead.
Brave little lion in lipstick
You were strong and you fought like a lion, Kutlwano, and you saved your mother. I hope you knew that before the last of your life seeped into the gravel and dust of that railway track in the middle of nowhere. You asked her to kiss you, so you must have known.
I wish you could hug your mommy again, and hear her tell you that she loves you. Your spirit will live on, you brave, brave little boy. At least, this is what we tell ourselves while we rage at the terrible wrongness of your death, and hope against hope (though we know better) that there will be no more like it, please, no more.
Like Sarah, I also wanted to weep.
“Lipstick is a wonderful medium. So much so that I don’t think I’ll ever stop using it” Sarah remarked. “However, I also love experimenting with other media like mascara and eye pencils. When I encounter stories like yours, all I want to do is create.”
I am so thrilled that she is working on a painting for me. I know exactly where it will go in my room. It will be the last thing I see before my light is switched off.
When I saw Nisha’s paintings by Sarah Britten, I thought what an interesting blog this lipstick painter would make. I sent her an e-mail expressing my admiration for her work and asking if it would be possible for me to write about her. I received this astonishing reply:
I want to tell you that I have been following your story for years and years. I remember the terrible Camelot accident only too well. My mother was part of the chorus with you and I actually saw one of the performances. I remember the news coverage so vividly. I saw you onstage performing in ‘My Plunge to Fame‘ and have been following your exploits on social media. Connecting with you at last feels like a turning of the circle; a connection that has been twenty seven years in the making.
And, all because of lipstick!
Tomorrow – April 8th Nisha is again spreading her wings. Paragliding!
Showing yet again that the impossible is possible and at the same time raising awareness for the #FreeTheWesternSahara campaign.