Enigmatic French Artist Humanizes Global Strife in Unexpected Locations; Wins $100,000 TED Award
New York—The 27-year-old guerilla artist known only as “JR” has joined the ranks of Bill Clinton and Bono in receiving the prestigious TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) Award, which allots winners $100,000 and “One Wish to Change the World (http://www.tedprize.org/about-tedprize). JR’s widely acclaimed, large-scale street art earned the recognition of the international nonprofit due in part to its impressive scope and playfully subversive tactics, but more importantly, for its deeply humanitarian ethos. Always surprising and often commentarial, JR’s work has been praised by TED director Amy Novogratz for redefining the way in which we display and view art.
The French photograffeur (graffeur meaning “graffiti artist”) debuted in 2006 with a project entitled Portrait of a Generation. The project seized the infrastructure of upscale Parisian neighborhoods as its canvas, plastering the city with enormous black-and-white photographs of inner-city youth. The artist’s personal website (http://jr-art.net/) proudly notes that the initially illegal artwork was embraced by City Hall.
In 2007 JR traveled to the Middle East, where he mounted Face 2 Face—whimsical portraits featuring rabbis, priests, and imams—on buildings in eight cities, including both sides of the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank. In Kenyan slums, JR launched Women, a tribute to the hope and tenacity of the female population, and in Brazil, his art blended powerfully with the favelas’ ubiquitous makeshift abodes. Other works have been achieved in China, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Stressing the vital role anonymity plays in his work, JR’s staunch protection of his identity has earned him comparisons to the roguish master of disguise, Robin Hood. At the TED conference in March 2011, he will announce his intentions for the use of the prize money.
Catherine E. Bailey