Frenchphotograffeur:” 1983-present

This post is going to be a two-part entry, first chronicling the professional life of the partially anonymous (he never shows his full face) French artist JR and then detailing my participation in his global art project, Inside Out, in Fogo, Cape Verde. His work is usually illegal, typically politically-driven, and always incredibly interesting.

JR’s life as an artist began when he was a teenager, when he found an old camera on the Parisian metro and began using it to document his graffiti art in France. His photography soon took a slight but career-defining twist when he began to mount the photos of his graffiti on public walls, adding an extra element of originality to the genre of illegal street art.

His first successful, large-scale (illegal) project was Portrait of a Generation, completed in 2006. The portraits of suburban “thugs” were taken in Cité des Bosquets and in the projects of La Forestière in Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 riots started in the French suburbs. They were then mounted in high-end neighborhoods in Paris, forcing people to consider separation and representations of social classes.

ImagePortrait of a Generation, 2006

Portrait of a Generation, 2006

In 2007, JR collaborated on Face 2 Face, the largest illegal photography project ever completed. The portraits, mounted in Israel and Palestine, peeled away differing and clashing religious convictions and laid bare the humanity of the neighboring peoples. The description on JR’s website says it best:

After a week, we had the exact same conclusion: these people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families. A religious covered woman has her twin sister on the other side. A farmer, a taxi driver, a teacher, has his twin brother in front of him. And he is endlessly fighting with him. It’s obvious, but they don’t see that. We must put them face to face. They will realize.
The silly portraits were meant to make people laugh. Portraits of an Israeli and a Palestinian doing the same job were mounted in “unavoidable” locations, prompting passersby to ask the question, what makes us so different?
Face 2 Face, 2007 (This is on the Separation Wall between Israel and Palestine)
Face 2 Face, 2007
One year later in 2008, JR began his long-term project Women are Heroes, which culminated in 2010 in a film documentary about the project. For this project, he posted photos in Cambodia, Africa, Brazil and India. Each project is unique and it’s worth considering the locations independently instead of looking at these years as work on one cohesive piece. The underlying conceptual vein is the same: women are too-frequently the targets of conflict in the world and their stories are worth telling. However, the artistic interpretation of this message is different enough in each country to warrant individual attention. Which, after all, is the entire point of the project. Mission accomplished: let your art speak for itself.
In Cambodia, JR focused on women living in the Dey Krahorm slum in Phnom Penh, the slum that had been considered the heart of Cambodia’s artistic community. A year or two after the project’s completion in Cambodia, as many as 150,000 Cambodians in the slum lost their homes. As of 2010 the slum was a construction site for a new company fitness center for 7NG, the South Korean company that overtook the land. In 2008 when the people were still fighting for their pasts and futures, JR met with the women from Dey Krahorm who were actively protesting the expropriation of the land where they and generations of their family had been reared.
Women are Heroes (Cambodia), 2008
Women are Heroes (Cambodia), 2008
In Africa, JR’s large-scale project took a humanitarian turn. In the photos below, located in Kibera, Kenya, the photos become functional. Made of thick, water-resistant material, the photos covered 2,000 square meters of rooftops, providing a barricade against the elements during the annual heavy rainfall. Another intriguing component is the separation of facial features. Separated from the bridge of the nose down, the portraits were mounted on a slope in the hillside. The eyes were pasted to a train that routinely went past the village on tracks above the photos on the hill. “The idea being,” JR wrote, “that for the split second the train passes, their eyes match their smiles and their faces are complete.”
Women are Heroes (Kenya), 2008
Women are Heroes (Kenya), 2008
Women are Heroes (Kenya), 2008
The project took a dangerous turn in Brazil. JR executed the project in Morro de Providência in Rio de Janeiro, a favela known for violent exchanges between drug lords and the police, and an area where women were victimized through war and rape. During construction of the project, JR worked in areas where “exchanges of gunshots where the bullets sometimes go through several houses at once” were not uncommon.
In order to pay tribute to those who play an essential role in society but who are the primary victims of war , crime, rape and political or religious fanaticism, JR pasted huge photos of the faces and eyes of local women all over the outside of the favela, suddenly giving a female gaze to both the hill and the favela.
Again, JR chose water-proof material to aid the favelas structurally.
Women are Heroes (Brazil), 2008
Women are Heroes (Brazil), 2008
Women are Heroes (Brazil), 2008
JR went to India in 2009 to continue his project, this time pasting sticky stencils during Holi fest in Jaipur to capture the colorful dust of the country. The stencils weren’t visible when they were posted, and appeared gradually as winds saturated with vibrant earthen color blew by, or once people caught on and began to throw pigment onto the spaces. The faces appeared gradually and sometimes only with the participation of the Indian people who were curious to see what evolved in the seemingly empty space.
Women are Heroes (India), 2009
Women are Heroes (India), 2009
Women are Heroes (India), 2009
On many occasions, JR ventured into dangerous areas to complete a project that no one believed possible. His art has given voices to people who have never known what it means to be heard. He has used materials that have improved the physical well-being of the people he has worked with, in many cases people the rest of the world choose to ignore.
So I’m happy to present an artist whose art fuses with humanitarianism to spark a glimmer of hope in some of the darkest crevasses of the world. More on his most recent project coming soon.
You can find more information on JR and his artwork at (http://www.jr-art.net)

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