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JR: Inside Out

Portrait of a Generation- Ladj Ly by JR JR, 28 millimetres, Portrait of a Generation- Ladj Ly, 2011
When Street artist JR (French, b.1983) was awarded the TED prize in 2011, he made one wish: to turn the world inside out. The TED prize, whose previous winners include chef Jamie Oliver and former president Bill Clinton, is a cash prize with no stipulations. Oliver chose to use his winnings to educate children about nutrition and obesity, while Clinton opted to help create a better health care system in Rwanda. When JR was chosen, he decided to expand upon a project that he had already been working on, in which photographs of unnamed citizens are blown up, printed, and pasted on buildings, often calling attention to the neighborhoods, people, and culture of the area. He calls it the Inside Out Project.

The origins of this work began with his early guerilla art projects and work as a Street artist. His earlier Portraits of a Generation initialized the format that evolved into the Inside Out Project. Back then, he posted large-scale photos of lower class citizens in wealthier Paris neighborhoods, exemplifying the stark contrasts in Parisian cultural divides. He then took this idea to Israel and Palestine with Face 2 Face. After visiting Palestinian and Israeli neighborhoods and taking portraits of its citizens, he posted them, side by side on the dividing line, to see if the population could really decipher who was who and who belonged on which side. The origins of the Inside Out Project took fruition here; using simple materials with no words or advertising, JR was able to present images that spoke louder than any politician or rebel could. The images he posted represented the core of many conflicts around the world, and the people involved in these conflicts.

JR then went on to create Women are Heroes in 2008. He has an accompanying film and book focused on the women living in violent and dangerous areas. Its large, mural-sized portraits drew attention to the mothers, wives, and sisters of forgotten slums from Brazil, India, and various other countries. In 2011, came the TED prize and the ability to spread his message farther. JR, his team, and volunteers worldwide are currently snapping portraits in set-up photo booths or sending in images online. These images are then printed, sent out, and pasted onto the walls of their homes, villages, and cities. The project’s breadth is international; it relies on the participation of people all over the world, and allows anyone to share the portrait of someone that needs to be represented.

The Inside Out Project is a continuous work, owing much of its success to the Internet, social media, and the prestigious reputation of TED, which allows its participants to share their stories. In early 2013, the artist’s first solo show opened at the Watari Museum in Tokyo, Japan, a country he had visited in late 2012 with the Inside Out Project. Although JR is himself a semi-autonomous artist, his actions have given the anonymous millions of all cultures and classes the chance to turn the world inside out.

Lauren Stephen is a production editor for the artnet Price Database.

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