by Cherszy (@cherszy)
For those of you who are wondering who on earth JR is, he is an anonymous – semi-anonymous I guess – French street artist and freelance photographer who works with a camera he found in a Paris subway. Since the discovery of his precious camera, JR has been photographing and putting these photos up in what are “random and intriguing” exhibits in many places around the globe, changing and awakening the world one step at a time. It is for this reason that he is the recipient of the 2011 TED Prize where he is awarded $100,000 and an opportunity to share his worldchanging wish with the rest of the TED community as well as with the rest of the world.
So what is JR’s wish? “For you (us) to stand up for what you (we) care about by participating in a global art project, and together we’ll turn the world… INSIDE OUT” (as shared by him in his TED talk last March).
In simple terms, JR wants to change the world… like many of us do. However, JR is inspirational and praiseworthy beyond his vision, will, and projects that help him fulfill his dream of wanting to make a change. He is so because he is giving the world reasons to want to change through his works. He is showing the global community the reality of the world’s conditions and why we need to fight for change. He is slowly awakening the world from its deepest slumber which is indifference. He inspires us to be inspired by the most common and most powerful things we see everyday – human faces.
I don’t know about you, but I think the saying “a picture paints a thousand words” is very true. With JR’s large-scale projects, this saying gets translated to “a face expresses a thousand messages”. He is saying exactly this, and he wants us to heed these calls as channeled to us by the ‘faces’ he shares to everyone in giant canvasses pasted in building walls, in rooftops, in broken bridges, and wherever he feels like the photos need to be shown. These pictures become part of the local landscape where it calls on passers-by to take time to listen to what these faces have to tell them and to feel what they must be feeling when the photo was taken. These are real people; you are real – how do you find a connection?
Simply put, these photos serve as a bridge for people to see the true face of the world. And with such a project, JR is truly an artist. He has inspired many people to fight for change using such a simple but effective way – art.
You may think that something is called art when it involves brushes, colors, or chisels, but art is deeper than that. Art is art when it involves self-expression, creativity, and imagination. Therefore, while JR may not be your modern-day Da Vinci, he is (arguably) a real artist. He expresses himself as a changemaker by expressing the truth of the world’s need for a difference, by starting and continuing a creative way to reach out to the victims of cruelty and injustice, and by taking our imaginations beyond what we see in photos.
In each of those photos, a story is being told. By looking at them, the story slowly unravels before us. We learn from a photo that a child has been maltreated, that a woman has been battered by her husband, that a man has been gravely discriminated, and whatnot. As we look into a photo, we learn that there is some sadness beneath a man’s smile in the picture because his eyes tell us so or that there is anger burning within a young man with a straight face because we can see it in his eyebrows. With such ‘faces’, we see a different side of the person and we are called to listen to their stories. We are empowered to be their saviors.
I’ve learned from my philosophy class that there come some points when we ‘truly’ see a person where he/she is in his/her plain, unmasked self. My professor calls it the ‘bare face’ where we see the person in his/her most vulnerable state but at the same time, he/she is seen to be one who carries with him/her limitless potential that is just waiting to be discovered. The ‘bare face’ presents a person not as someone who you can (or are about to) judge but simply as someone who subsists. Do you remember that time when you felt like you just wanted to help out your enemy when he was crying when you think you should be thinking that he deserves all the misery after what he has done to you? Well, you’ve just met the ‘bare face’ of that person, and it captured you. You saw him in his most vulnerable state, and you just felt you had to strengthen him. You just had to help him. For a second there, you didn’t think he was your enemy; you just wanted to save him from whatever’s hurting him. It was a split second encounter with that ‘bare face’ where all prejudices about that person were erased from your mind, but it was all it took for you to heed his call for help.
I don’t know if JR is aware of this, but I think his work is bordering on that principle. His projects aim to let us see the ‘bare face’ of each of those featured faces, and with such an encounter, be empowered to not only help them but to understand them such that we can see the world in a different light.
By looking at these photos that have invaded and continue to invade both public and private properties everywhere around the globe (you may call it illegal but I call it inspirational), we are allowing ourselves to be immersed into stories we’ve never or we have refused to listen and to have less prejudices about people from other races, other religions, and other cultures. We become less discriminating and become more passionate. By looking at JR’s works of art, we come to see that we all belong to one world.
And JR sees his dream of changing the world slowly coming to reality through his art. JR, the gigantic portraits of faces, and the rest of humanity are slowly turning the world inside out.
Encounter the ‘faces’, listen to the stories, and make a difference. Be inspired. Be curious about the world. Connect with real people. How do you fight for change?
“Art is not supposed to change the world, but… art can change the way we see the world.” – JR
Lean more about JR’s project and see how you can help JR and his team out in their ongoing and upcoming art projects by visiting insideoutproject.net.
If you want to listen to JR talk about the “Inside Out Project” (and be more inspired), watch his TED talk here.
And again, let me just say it one more time: JR is one awesome dude! Don’t you think so? 🙂