JR – Restoring the Identities of the Nameless
July 30, 2010
From Rio de Janeiro to Kibera, Kenya, the guerilla photographer, or ‘wallpaper guy’, JR, aims to put a human face to the most impoverished areas of the world.
I am a massive fan of street art having lived in the hometown of Banksy. Street art has a way of making the world a place, a subject rather than an object, and one street artist I am currently consumed by is the talented, yet mysterious JR. JR’s anonymity is crucial to the integrity of his work as his art is often illegal. JR operates under the radar, taking those who live on the margin of mainstream society and gives them back their individuality.
JR first developed his trademark in Rio de Janeiro in 2008, as giant posters of staring eyes started appearing on buildings in the city’s oldest favela. The result was mesmerising.
The 3rd stage of his project “28 Millimeters” entitled ‘Women are Heroes’ really grabs my attention. JR cover’s over 2,000 square feet of rooftops and train cars with the eyes and faces of women from Africa’s largest and poorest slums, Kibera, Kenya. The emotional images are completely contrasting to the usual media images of grief and despair of life in the favelas. Instead the women project depicts a sense of pride and certainty about their own identity, which highlights the dignity, courage and noble struggle of these women. JR creatively carves his consciousness into the eyes of the women, and subsequently, the photographs, to me, make the houses almost seem alive with the intricate emotional details of his subject’s faces popping out. In addition, it’s visible from space and can be seen on Google Earth.
But however successfully JR’s installations work as art, they also have a social conscience. The images are actually practically beneficial to those who took part. In Kibera the photographs of women on the rooftops were printed on to vinyl, waterproof material so, in addition to beautifying the slum, the photographs will also protect inhabitants by keeping the brutal downpours of the rainy season out. The sheets of corrugated iron used in another part of the shanty town were also distributed afterwards to those who had taken part, free of charge.
I love JR’s work, and street art in general as it liberates the experience of viewing art. The art penetrates your everyday space, which provokes and inspires people. JR has proved that a little bold creativity and technical application can transform the regular into the spectacular.
So far, Women has exhibited in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kenya and Belgium, and plans for installations in various other Western countries are underway. In the coming year, JR also plans to develop Women Are Heros in India, Cambodia and Laos. He is currently in Brazil putting together another action for the project.
Check out JR’s website to find out more! -> http://jr-art.net/