With a camera, a dedicated wheatpasting crew and the help of whole villages and favelas, 2011 TED Prize winner JR shows the world its true face.
From the suburbs of Paris, to the walls that divide Israel and Palestine, over the rooftops of Kenya and the favelas of Rio, French street artist JR transforms messages of personal identity into provocative public works of art.
As a daring young artist, JR used the streets of Paris as a canvas, writing graffiti, creating sidewalk galleries and wheatpasting photographs documenting his adventures throughout the city. It wasn’t until the Fall of 2005 when riots erupted in the suburbs of Paris, that JR found his true voice. During media coverage of the riots, amidst the destruction and chaos, JR noticed something familiar, large-scale photographs he had pasted a year earlier, photographs of his friends. Seeing the faces of the protestors and understanding who they were created a deeper attachment and empathy for the movement.
Inspired, JR took his camera into the affected areas and photographed the faces of the protestors. With the simple medium of paper and glue, JR pasted the photographs throughout middle class neighborhoods to give Paris a different perspective of the protestors than was being portrayed by the media. One year later, the exhibition was displayed in front of the City Hall of Paris. This is when JR realized the power of Art.
“The fact that art cannot change things makes it a neutral place for exchanges and discussions, and then enables you to change the world.”
Influenced again by media coverage of civil unrest, JR became interested in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Not the politics, but the people. Who were the real Israelis? Who were the real Palestinians? After spending time in the territory, JR realized once again that the rhetoric expressed by mainstream media was different from the actual experiences and perceptions of the people. What else was there to do but launch the largest illegal art exhibition ever!? Project “Face-2-Face”, photographs of Israelis and Palestinians working in similar professions were pasted next to one another in each territory to challenge preconceptions. The juxtaposition of the anonymous photographs changed the conversation, no one could identify the difference between the two, no one could identify who was Israeli and who was Palestinian. Why not talk about how we are similar, rather than how we are different?
This experience further defined JR’s vision and voice. Working in the Middle East he realized that people do not require art galleries or museums to experience art and share culture. This revelation led JR to explore other regions, developing societies that needed a mechanism to express their culture, their voice. The next community JR focused on was a Brazilian favela called Providencia. The complex and violent history of this community inspired JR to launch a new project, “Women Are Heroes”, an exhibition that would give an identity to the women who struggle and sacrifice to provide for their family and their community.
Women Are Heroes created a new dynamic in each of the communities they visited, a dynamic that was maintained long after the project ended. Each project inspired JR and his team further, so they kept traveling, throughout India and Africa and war-torn regions such as Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
Could art change the world? JR does not believe that art is meant to change the world. He does not believe that art is meant to change practical things, but that it may change our perceptions. “Art can change the way we see the world. Art can create an analogy. Actually the fact that art cannot change things makes it a neutral place for exchanges and discussions, and then enables you to change the world.” What we see changes who we are, and we can change the world.
TED is a private non-profit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading” through annual conferences that bring together the world's most fascinating people, projects and ideas. The organizers of TED believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. Ted.com is clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers, and a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.
The TED Prize is awarded to an extraordinary individual with a creative and bold vision to spark global change. The award is designed to leverage the TED Community's wide array of talents, resources and seed funding for "A Wish to Inspire the World."At the 2011 TED conference in Long Beach, California JR accepted the TED Prize and declared his wish..
“I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project, and together we'll turn the world...INSIDE OUT.”
Visit INSIDE OUT PROJECT for more information and to view the progress and accomplishments of this global art initiative.