Since 1990 when Monterrey, California hosted the first official TED conference, TED talks have united those curious about new ideas in technology, design and other disciplines – from philosophers and scientists to artists, musicians, and religious leaders.
In anticipation of December’s TED Women 2019 in La Quinta, CA, we curated a selection of some of our favorite TED talks from creative women over the past decade.
Grab some coffee and get inspired.
Hannah Gadsby: Three Ideas. Three Contradictions. Or Not. @ TED 2019
Hannah Gadsby wow’d the world when her 2018 Netflix special Nanette broke stand up comedy’s tired tropes with “anti-comedy” – a new form of punchline-less, narrative-driven honesty. In her talk at TED 2019, Gadsby builds on this tradition with warm and funny anecdotes about her career, her personal history, and how she comes from a long family tradition of palindromes.
Elise Roy: When We Design for Disability, We All Benefit @ TEDx MidAtlantic, 2015.
“I believe that losing my hearing was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. You see, I get to experience the world in a unique way. And I believe that these unique experiences that people with disabilities have is what’s going to help us make and design a better world for everyone — both for people with and without disabilities.” Being Deaf gave disability rights lawyer, artist, human rights advocate, and design-thinker Elise Roy a unique way of understanding the world. It gave her a perspective that could potentially solve some of our largest problems. For Roy, when you design with disability in mind, you likely encounter solutions that far surpass those that come from designing for the norm.
Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Genius @ TED 2009
Artists and geniuses often have high, sometimes impossible expectations to follow. In her funny, personal and moving talk at TED 2009, acclaimed author of Eat Pray Love Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the absurd heights we expect from artists and geniuses, and waxes on the crazy notion that maybe, instead of looking for a rare, extraordinary unicorn, we might have a “genius” in all of us.
Deborah Willis (with Hank Willis Thomas): A Mother and Son United by Love and Art @ TED Women 2017
Professor, photographer, and critic Deborah Willis and her son, acclaimed photographer and activist Hank Willis Thomas lead this joint talk to discuss their practice, how they influence one another, and how their art confronts and shatters mainstream narratives. One theme that recurs and unites their work is love, which they describe as being something more than feeling. For Deb and Hank, it’s an action-based way of being, of doing, of seeing, and ultimately, a way of listening.
Penny De Los Santos @ TEDx Austin, 2012
Photographer and Luupe member Penny De Los Santos uses photography to understand culture and identity, looking specifically at how food can be a source of conversation, storytelling, and a unifying force across the globe. In her talk, Santos takes us from a candlelit dinner table in war-torn Lebanon to the grave of a loved one, asking viewers to pause, connect deeply and take the time to strengthen and honor the often hidden bonds between us.
Judith Jamison and Members of The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater @ TED 2019
TED conferences aren’t limited to talks – they often include live performances from musicians and dancers. “Dance can elevate our human experience beyond words,” says Judith Jamison, artistic director emerita of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. In between performances of excerpts from Alvin Ailey’s classic works “Revelations” and “Cry,” Jamison reflects on the power of dance to turn history into art.
Stacey Baker (with Alec Soth): This is What Enduring Love Looks Like @ PopUp Magazine’s curated session at TED 2015
After commissioning Alec Soth to photograph her parents, New York Times Magazine photo editor Stacey Baker asked the photographer to collaborate with her on a story about how couples meet. They found themselves at the world’s largest speed dating event in Las Vegas, and at the largest retirement community in Nevada, Soth photographing couples in each place. The photographs – and ultimately Baker and Soth’s talk – explores the rich stories of love, how people meet, and how they endure.
Latoya Ruby Frazier: A Visual History of Inequality in America @ TED 2015
For more than a decade, LaToya Ruby Frazier has photographed friends, neighbors, and family in Braddock, Pennsylvania. While the steel-producing town has, in recent years, been at the center of stories about “rustbelt revitalization” Frazier’s pictures tell a different story. They capture the footprint of inequality and environmental toxicity. In this talk, the photographer and TED fellow shares an up-close and personal glimpse into an often-unseen world.
Marvi Lacar: How Photography Saved My Life @ TEDx Carnegie Lake, 2017
When documentary photographer and Luupe member Marvi Lacar moved to NYC in her early 20’s, she thought she had it all figured out. She was immersed in a career she was excited about, in the city of her dreams, with a devoted partner to share her passions. But shortly after, her father died and she fell into a deep clinical depression with reminders of their complicated relationship and his abusive behavior to her mother. In this emotive, tear-jerking talk, Lacar tells the story of how photography helped her document her struggle and move past the darkness.
Anastasia Taylor Lind: Fighters and Mourners of the Urka Ukranian Revolution @ TED Global 2014
After reading Miss Rosen’s piece on women war photographers earlier this year, we were drawn to this talk by documentary photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind. “Men fight wars, and women mourn them,” she says in her grim, yet beautiful talk. With stark, arresting images from the Maidan protests in Ukraine, the TED Fellow shows us intimate faces from the revolution.
Shonda Rhimes: My Year of Saying YES to Everything @ TED 2016
“A while ago, I tried an experiment. For one year, I would say yes to all the things that scared me. Anything that made me nervous, took me out of my comfort zone, I forced myself to say yes to. Did I want to speak in public? No, but yes. Did I want to be on live tv? No, but yes. Did I want to try acting? No no no, but yes yes yes. And then a crazy thing happened. The very act of doing the thing that scared me undid the fear….”
Shonda Rhimes, the mind behind Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, has created over 70 hours of television per season, and she loves her work. In her talk at TED 2016, Rhimes discusses how her year of saying “yes” to every project, request (including playing with her kids – on demand!) change her outlook on life, giving her a constant and inspiring hum.
Chumamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story @ TED 2009
“I’m a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about what I like to call “the danger of the single story.”Novelist Chimamanda Adichie talks about the importance of reading, hearing, and discovering stories from different people and cultures around the world, and how failure to do this, leaves us at risk of severely misunderstanding each other.
Geena Rocero: Why I Must Come Out @ TED 2014
“The world makes you something that you’re not, but you know inside what you are, and that question burns in your heart: How will you become that? I may be somewhat unique in this, but I am not alone, not alone at all. So when I became a fashion model, I felt that I’d finally achieved the dream that I’d always wanted since I was a young child.”
In Rocero’s talk, the fashion model tells her story of accepting and embracing her gender identity, despite it being different from what she was assigned at birth.
Ghada Wali: How I’m using LEGO to Teach Arabic @ TEDGlobal 2017
When studying for her master’s degree in Italy, designer Ghanda Wali found herself missing Arabic. So she visited a library in search of Arabic and Middle Eastern texts that might quench her thirst. But all she could find were titles about fear, terrorism, and destruction. From that moment forward, she resolved to represent her culture in a way that was fun, accessible and would break the stereotypes she continued to confront.
She created a colorful, engaging project that uses LEGO to teach Arabic using graphic design to create connections and positive change. “Effective communication and education is the road to more tolerant communities,” Wali says.
Paola Antonelli: The 3,000 Year History of the Hoodie @ TED’s Small Thing Big Idea, 2018.
“The hoodie is an amazing object. It’s one of those timeless objects that we hardly think of because they work so well that they’re part of our lives. We call them ‘humble masterpieces’.” In this 3+ minute “mini-talk,” MoMa design curator Paola Antonelli takes us through its history, from its roots in ancient Greece and Rome to its presence in hip hop culture – and as a mainstay for Mark Zuckerberg.
Kelli Jean Drinkwater: Enough With the Fear of Fat @ TEDx Sydney, 2016
Multi-disciplinary artist and activist Kelli Jean Drinkwater confronts society’s obsession with body image and fatphobia by unapologetically bringing fat people into spaces that were once off limits. This includes more expected places like fashion runways to the Sydney Festival. In her talk at Tedx Sydney, Drinkwater tells her personal story of reclaiming space and acceptance.
Jessica Ladd: The Reporting System that Sexual Assault Survivors Want @ TED 2016
“We don’t have to live in a world where 99 percent of rapists get away with it,” says TED Fellow Jessica Ladd, who, in 2015, founded Callisto, a platform for college students to confidentially report sexual assault. “We can create a world where there’s a real deterrent to violating the rights of another human being.”
Françoise Mouly: The Stories Behind The New Yorker’s Iconic Covers @ TED NYC 2017
Françoise Mouly, The New Yorker’s art director presents a visual retrospective of her 46+ years at the magazine, from deciding what goes on the cover, to the shadowy depiction of the twin towers after 9/11 and so much more. In her talk at TED NYC Mouly examines how a simple, straightforward drawing can hold our attention amidst a sea of distractions.
America Ferrera: My Identity is a Superpower – Not an Obstacle @ TED 2019
Using details from her career, actress America Ferrera, famous for her role on the television series Ugly Betty, calls for a more authentic depiction of different cultures in media — and a shift in how we tell our stories. “Who we see thriving in the world teaches us how to see ourselves,” she says, “how to think about our own value, how to dream about our futures.”
Maira Kalman: The Illustrated Woman @ TED 2007
Author and illustrator Maira Kalman talks about her life and work, from her covers for The New Yorker to her books for children and adults.
Danielle Feinberg: The Maic Ingredient that Brings Pixar Movies to Life @ TED 2015
Danielle Feinberg, Pixar’s director of photography, builds magical stories using math, science, and code. In her talk at TED, Feinberg dives into the mystery behind creating memorable scenes of Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Brave, WALL-E, and how Pixar connects art and science to turn unimaginable worlds into “reality.”