French street artist JR travels to conflict zones globe to initiate art projects he believes have the and impoverished neighbourhoods around the power to alter perceptions and change the world
Larger than life
HE IS ONE of the most acclaimed street artists in the world, yet most people will never know his real name. JR, 32, refuses to sign his work or have his photo taken without his sunglasses on – concealing his identity as far as possible. But his photographs of ordinary, often anonymous people reproduced as massive artworks pasted on to buildings, sidewalks and even trains are far from incognito.
JR started his career as a graf ti artist in Paris in his teens and pasted his rst large-scale photos in one of the city’s poverty-stricken housing projects, known as Les Bosquets, in 2004. The following year, the area was at the centre of nationwide riots protesting youth unemployment and police harassment, with the news coverage giving JR’s work unprecedented exposure. Between 2004 and 2006, he created a work of art called ‘Portraits of a Generation’, featuring photos of young people living in housing projects in Paris. Since then, he has become one of the most well-known and respected street artists in the world, focusing his work in impoverished urban areas, from Bethlehem in Palestine to slums in Nairobi and the suburbs of Tunis. He’s also exhibited in do ens of art galleries around the world, and the impact of his work has been collated in a new book, JR: Can Art Change The World? by Nato Thompson and Joseph Remnant (R9 2, Phaidon Press).
hen the artist and activist won the 2011 TED Pri e (awarded to ‘ an individual with a creative, bold vision to spark global change’), he used his pri e money of $1 000 000 (about R14 million) to launch one of the most ambitious art projects in the world: the Inside Out project – a participatory art platform anyone can send portraits to, which are then returned as posters that the senders can paste where they see t. JR receives no payment for his large-scale urban creations (although his other art pieces sell for hundreds of euros) and says his creativity is driven by the hope of social change: ‘With optimism, there is a slight chance that things can change.’