Can Art Change the World?
With the record Rio De Janeiro, Brazil has, it is no surprise that spectators are skeptical about the Olympics being held in the city. But can art truly help a city stuck in its own political turmoil?
That is thee question artists have spitefully proved throughout generations of social injustices. Art has always found a way to create a sort of connectedness among global issues. To produce work out of human relationships, or “relational art,” as a critic put it regarding French artist and photographer, @JR.
JR is not one to shy away from any social issues. In 2008, after collaborating with some of Brazil’s oldest favelas for his “Women are Heroes” project, he created Inside Out Project, , a global participatory art project, after receiving the TED award in 2011 which is an iteration of his previous projects. His original work in the favela belongs to the series “Women Are Heroes,” which is also the title of a documentary that he made about the project.
In 2009 he opened Casa Amarela or the Yellow House, a domestic building at the top of the oldest Brazilian favela, Provedencia de Morro, which serves as a cultural, social and educational center for the community. Funny how life works full turn. The world now gets a chance to see JR’s work, a hillside away from where the Olympics are held.
“No brands or sponsors–just the love of artists and teachers that come from around the world to give classes to the kids,” said JR.
JR launched a million-dollar global participatory project called “Inside Out,” for which he has not taken a single picture for. Instead, he encouraged people to take their own portraits, which they can send to him with a statement of purpose; he printed the photos on a large scale and return them, so that participants can paste them wherever they choose.
Whenever he is in public, he disguises himself with a fedora and sunglasses. He has orchestrated large-scale guerrilla photo installations in the slums of Southern Sudan, Kenya, Cambodia, and India. In 2007, he shot portraits of Arabs and Jews, printed them on fifteen thousand square feet of paper, and pasted them throughout Israel and the West Bank.
He called the project “Face2Face,” and he describes it as the world’s largest illegal photo exhibition.
The works generated an enormous amount of press coverage, both in Brazil and around the world. JR’s reputation slowly but surely grew and a 2011 profile of the artist in the The New Yorker began with a description of his Morro da Providencia works.
“Art can create an energy,” he said. “Actually, the fact that art cannot change things makes it a neutral place for exchanges and discussions, and then enables it to change the world.”
A participant in Iran, at grave personal risk, had posted an image of a defiant-looking woman beneath a state-sponsored billboard. Russian gay-rights activists protested with the images and were briefly imprisoned in Moscow. At the end of the summer, JR launched a huge “Inside Out” project in Israel and the West Bank: four large photo booths, a roving truck to take pictures and print posters, and a twenty-five-person team. To raise extra money, he sold a large piece—photos pasted on found objects—for a quarter of a million dollars.
So far, “Inside Out” has generated its most interesting results in Tunisia, where installations began just after the dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali stepped down.
JR believes art will change the world. His Casa Amarela has just announced that it is taking 100 students to this year’s Olympic games. Now, in honor of the Rio 2016 Olympics, JR has constructed two installations of athletes performing with urban and natural surroundings. One depicts a high jumper leaping off the building and the other of a diver jumping into the ocean.
If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at JR’s work, check out his book.