Friday, October 22, 2010

Anonymous Photographer Wins TED Prize

by Claire O'Neill

Portrait of artist JR

TED describes itself as "a small non-profit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading." Actually, the non-profit is anything but small. Five years ago, it started giving a handsome annual prize to 'exceptional individuals' devoted to changing the world. The TED genie grants those prize recipients One Wish to Change the World — as well as $100,000. Last year it went to chef and food revolutionary Jamie Oliver. This year, the prize goes to an anonymous street artist, who goes by the diminutive name JR.

As the TED site announced yesterday:

JR creates pervasive art that spreads uninvited on buildings of Parisian slums, on walls in the Middle East, on broken bridges in Africa or in favelas in Brazil. People in the exhibit communities, those who often live with the bare minimum, discover something absolutely unnecessary but utterly wonderful. And they don’t just see it, they make it. Elderly women become models for a day; kids turn into artists for a week. In this art scene, there is no stage to separate the actors from the spectators.

Murals by JR in Brazil
JR/Agence VU

From the project "Woman Are Heroes," Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 2008

Murals by artist JR in Nairobi, Kenya
JR/Agence VU

Part of the "Women Are Heroes" series, rooftops in Kibera, Kenya feature enlarged photographs of the women who live there.

Face 2 Face

Bridge in Paris France by artist JR

The Paris-based artist, who calls himself a "photograffeur," combines photography and graffiti in a distinct form of public art. Although his work lives in the streets, it has already been recognized by museums like London's Tate Modern — and he's only in his mid-20s.

JR's projects vary, but have one underlying cause: provoke change by fostering community. "Portrait Of A Generation" showed giant photos of suburban "thugs" outside of Paris. "Face 2 Face," which, as the Ted site explains, "some consider the biggest illegal photo exhibition ever," explored Israeli-Palestinian tensions. "Women Are Heroes" was an effort to empower women by showing their faces.

And it's all done completely off the radar. Hence his disguise and his moniker. His site calls it "l'art infiltrant" — we might call it guerrilla — either way, it's uninvited and elaborate. The artist makes these enormous installations in towns and cities that have virtually nothing. People come out of the woodwork to help. They start talking. Suddenly there's a sense of community and a cause. At least that's the idea. And that's the idea that TED thinks is worth spreading.

You can learn more about JR on the TED site or on his site.

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