Most, if not all, millennials are familiar with memes—they are those hilarious images, GIFS, phrases and videos that permeate social media and make their rounds in WhatsApp groups; those things that are hard to explain to your parents. Memes unite us in that they are, more often than not, humorous visual embodiments of shared experiences; the more relatable the meme is, across a particular group of individuals, the more likely it is to go viral. In honour of the culture of memes, Gallery One11 has collaborated with What Do You Meme to curate Africa’s first meme exhibition.

 

 

The Language of Millennials

According to the Wired Guide To Memes, the word meme originates from “evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. For Dawkins, cultural ideas were no different than genes—concepts that had to spread themselves from brain to brain as quickly as they could, replicating and mutating as they went. He called those artefacts memes, bits of cultural DNA that encoded society’s shared experiences while also constantly evolving.” In our day and age, social commentary and shared cultural experiences spread from one social media platform the next through the visual language encapsulated in memes, which invariably take the form of jokes.

We are a generation that relies heavily on visual communication to express our opinions and feelings; memes provide a mechanism through which we can, as a collective, laugh at ourselves, lament our pain, and decry injustice. Depending on the context, a meme can serve as a tool for representation and an affirmation of cultural identity. There are memes that all millennials, regardless of their racial identity and cultural upbringing, will find funny; but there are also those memes that only a few will LOL at because they speak to an experience that resonates with people of a particular racial or cultural group. Black Twitter, for instance, is known for generating the most jaw-breaking, hilarious memes because there is so much we experience on a day-to-day basis—so many forms of violence and micro-aggressions. Memes, then, become therapeutic in that they add levity and respite, however brief, to an unstable socio-political landscape.

 

“Memes are the language of the unheard.” – Raffia Santana, artist. 

 

 

 

Africa’s First MemExhibition

Hosted by J&J Rewards, the exhibition will be an interactive experience that allows you to “become your own meme curator. You and your friends will receive Caption Cards from the actual game and go around pairing up the funniest combination of captions with the Photo Cards displayed throughout the gallery. What we are striving for is to ultimately get you ROFL (Rolling On The Floor Laughing).”

The exhibition will be running until the 7th of February at Gallery One11 in Cape Town. Visit www.galleryone11.com for more information.