When was the last time you saw an artwork that made you question yourself and your position in society? That is precisely the intention behind JR's projects: to force people to ask themselves important questions. Perhaps one of the most ambitious artists of our days, JR is convinced that art must be taken to the streets, so it can reach all kinds of people.
JR found a camera on the Paris metro and ever since he was fascinated by what he could achieve with it. The French man whose identity is still unconfirmed started by documenting the act of his graffiti painting with friends on the streets of Paris. His first major project Portrait of a Generation is a part of his 28 Millimetres series, and was shot in the epicentre of the 2005 riots in the French suburbs. The portraits of youth in these neighbourhoods were pasted all over the French capital, challenging social perceptions and negative media representations.
He went on to work on the Face 2 Face installation with his colleague Marco. The project’s outline was pretty simple: it was an exploration of the on-going conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine. In order to approach this sensitive topic, the artists took portraits of Israelis and Palestinians who have the same jobs, and pasted them in monumental formats facing each other on both sides of the Separation Wall and in several Palestinian and Israeli cities. In a very symbolic gesture, the population was left with an internal confrontation of their own feelings. It is this interest for the human condition and its many socially and politically altered facets that makes JR´s approach stand out.
The methods he utilises serve his purpose wonderfully, as he chooses huge formats to print the portraits, making them unavoidable in the streets, as well as intellectually and emotionally stimulating. For Women are Heroes he listened to stories of women who have faced horrible injustice in the past, yet look forward to a future of hope and happiness. The project travelled to several countries such as Kenya, Brazil, India, and Cambodia, among others. The similar idea permeates his following work Wrinkles of the City, for which he travelled around the world in search of the essence of cities, through an honest approach to elderly people in rapidly changing cities.
His capacity of engaging people from all ages and backgrounds to work together is mirrored in Inside Out, the largest participatory art project in history, for which local groups make portraits of their communities. These images are uploaded on a digital platform and made into posters, which are sent back to the co-creators and exhibited in their cities. To date, more than 150 thousand people from over 108 countries have participated.
JR speaks to us at a human level and his message is universal. He has found a way to deconstruct the public space and return it to the people in raw form, letting them know that the streets belong to them and they should claim ownership of the construction of collective narratives that includes all points of view and opinions.
Words: Astrid Scheuermann
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu