Guerilla Street Artist JR Wins TED Prize

TED writes that street photographer and artist JR shows his work in the “biggest art gallery on the planet” — the streets. His work features colossal blown-up photos of everyday people taken in their neighborhoods and then pasted illegally on the side of buildings and structures for the whole community to view. The group says his work focuses on both “art and action and talks about commitment, freedom, identity and limit.”  The prize comes with $100,000, which can be used to “make a wish” and garner broader support for any major project.

In outlining their reasons for giving JR the prize, TED writes: “JR creates pervasive art that spreads uninvited on buildings of Parisian slums, on walls in the Middle East, on broken bridges in Africa or in favelas in Brazil. People in the exhibit communities, those who often live with the bare minimum, discover something absolutely unnecessary but utterly wonderful. And they don’t just see it, they make it. Elderly women become models for a day; kids turn into artists for a week. In this art scene, there is no stage to separate the actors from the spectators.”

In Brazil, Cambodia, and Kenya his outsize photographs have been printed on waterproof vinyl and double as roofs in inner-city slums, says The New York Times.  However, the 27-year old artist, who remains anonymous by only using the initials “JR” and sporting sunglasses and a hoody, said his “photo graffiti” acts are illegal most places. Currently, he’s in Shanghai (acting illegally), using his camera to document the demolition of the city’s beautiful old hutongs and “pasting a 20-foot-tall wrinkled face around the facade of an old water tower he spotted from the highway.”

According to TED, earlier powerful public works includes “Portrait of a Generation,” large-format portraits of suburban “thugs” in Paris; “Face 2 Face,” which involved relying on local Israeli and Palestinian communities to paste gigantic portraits of both Israelis and Palestinians “face to face” on either side of the West Bank barrier; and “Women Are Heroes,” a project focusing on the “dignity of women who are the target of conflict.”


Some work, including “Portraits of a Generation” have actually gone legal — the photos were later wrapped around Paris’ City Hall. Other photos recently sold in the mid five-figures at Sotheby’s, helping to finance the artist’s work.

See a great slideshow from The New York Times and watch TED’s video on his work.

Image credits: (1) Women are Heroes, JR / TED, (2) Face2Face, JR / TED.

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