When art goes where nobody expected

J.R. is a french street artist and the winner of the prestigious Ted 2011 prize aimed to highlighting collaborative initiatives with far-reaching impact. “I was in my studio in Paris and suddenly the phone rang. A voice told me across the line “you won the 2011 TED prize you have to make a wish to save the world”. I though, I was lost cause I can´t save the world, nobody can´t. We have dictators ruling the world, population is growing by millions, there are no fish in the sea, and, as the last winner said –Jamie Oliver- we all are becoming fat”. But the question is not to save the world, but to wish doing it.

Business, technology, politicians change the world –not always in the right way, but they do it-, so, what about art?.Could art change the world?. J.R. started his career when he was 15 years old doing graffiti. At that time he didn´t think in changing the world, but writing his name in every wall in Paris, using this city as a canvas. One day he found a camera and decided to document his lawless adventures, then give them back into photocopies and pasted them in street in “expo du rue”. Finally he framed them in order not to be confused with advertising.

Social riots: Paris is burning

“The city is the best gallery, you don´t need gather your art in a book, you are composing directly with the public”, explains J.R. In November 2006 Paris was burning in social riots and he decided to catch the disturbing, frightening images of these kids attacking cops and firemen, shooting molotov cocktails and he pictured them just as they are: a product of their environment, neither angels nor evils. These pictures are showed, illegally, in the walls of the neighborhoods where the riots had exploded. The exhibition is echoed by all French media, so J.R. decided look deeper in the reason of the riots and made a series of portraits of these kids, close-ups of their faces, but laughing at themselves, leaving hatred, anger and frustration back. And then he pasted in the most bourgeois area or Paris with their names, ages and building number. A year later this exhibition was placed in front of the Paris city hall. At this point JR started realizing that perhaps, only perhaps, art could change the world.

Palestinians and israelis “Face to Face” and “Women are Heroes”

A year later JR is convinced by a friend of him to going for a trip to the Middle East and see who were the real palestinians and the real israelis. They decided to make portraits of palestinian and israeli people doing the same jobs: taxi drivers, lawyers, cooks. The experts say “no way, the army will not agree, HAMAS will shoot ah the pictures” but surprisingly, all the participants in the project accepted to be pasted one besides the other in the wall of each palestinian and israelis cities. In both sides of the wall that separates Israel from Palestine, the most illegal exhibition ever made was launched. In the exhibition that took place in the Ramala´s market people were befuddled that anybody would dare show the face of their enemies. But JR asked the crowd “could you tell me who are the Palestinian and who the israelis?”, and nobody could answer.

JR stepped further: even that nowadays art is conceived as democratic, there are a lot of places in the world where people have never been in a museum or enjoyed with an art exhibition.  In this case he chose places he heard about in the media and where women were the basis of the community while men spent their time in the street, and he found it´d be a great idea that these women were paid in tribute by these men. “In peacetime women are discriminated and in wartime, they become targets”, says the trailer of this project called “Women are heroes”. Bruxelles, Sudan, New York, India, Sierra Leona, London, Kenya, Liberia, Cambodia, were some stops in this long trip. “When I get to a place where there´s a conflict in the most of the cases I could not understand the circumstances, I just observe. And sometimes there´s no words, no sentences, just tears”, affirms the French artist.

Violence in the favelas in Brazil and Africa

“One day in 2008 I was watching TV in Paris and I noticed of a terrible Rio de Janeiro favela story. Few students were detained by the army because they were not carrying their papers and, instead of bringing them to the police station, gave them to the enemy favela so they were chopped into pieces. I was shocked –the whole Brazil was shocked too- and decided to go there and doing something”, tells JR to introduce his project in Rio de Janerio. When he arrived to Providencia favela he met a woman and showed her a book with some of his pictures. “We´re hungry of culture, we need culture”, said her. Children were the first to participate and after that, a group of women linked with the murdered boys came. “I was not interested in recording violence, guns and weapons –there are enough in the media- but in the incredible life that this place has”. So this place that only had known the shootings was covered with the smiling faces of its inhabitants.

JR had also travelled along Africa: Liberia, Kenya, Monrovia, Sierra Leona, Sudan … When he got at these places people came near them and asked about the purpose of his project. “Art, I´m doing art” was JR answer. “I think the key of the project is people curiosity, and it becomes a desire and after that in a need to get involved”, explains the street artist. A bridge in Monrovia where the ex-rebels soldiers had to pass trough was covered with the photograph of a smiling woman, raped during the war –“women were the first target in conflict”, remembers JR-; after the violent elections in 2008, Kibera roof houses, in Kenya, were covered with civilians pictures made in vinyl, a useful solution, since protected them from rain better that paper could ever do. ”When you look at Kibera from the air, staring back to you”, states JR.

As an artist, J.R. has said “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.”. So …. could art really change the world?.

This is a nonprofit explanation

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