Friday, March 4, 2011

Visual Swarms

The top photo, above, is one I've been using for years in some of my talks on social media around the world, and it always packs a punch. It's a photo of a Brazilian favela; the city-facing walls of the Providencia slum in Rio de Janeiro have been been plastered with large, poster-sized images of the people who live there -- and the effect is startling. It is collaborative, public art produced in 2008 by JR, a Paris street artist, to help the disenfranchised celebrate themselves and bear silent witness to police violence in the favela. JR says the digital work helped to embolden slum dwellers and "give them a face" after the military opened fire on a rally in a public square, killing three local children. "What we see changes who we are," JR says. "When we act together, the effect is much larger than the sum of its parts."

This past week, in California, JR received his public due -- this year's $100,000 TED Prize for humanitarian activity, awarded annually by TED organizers to help a deserving social innovator fund his or her wish to change the world. [JR's Prize was announced in October but awarded to him on Wednesday in Long Beach.] His "photograffiti" involves pasting up giant, black-and-white photos on city walls. "The streets comprise the world's largest art gallery," he says. [Late last month, 10 of his large-scale portraits showed up in Los Angeles as part of a trilogy of public art projects called The Wrinkles of the City. Previous installments appeared in Spain and China.]

JR's wish? "To use art to turn the world inside out," he says. Using his prize money, JR is launching a global art project called Inside Out. The idea is to empower grassroots volunteers to "stand up for what they believe in" by collaborating with him digitally via the Web. He is asking people to upload their photos to the project site for enlargement; his goal is to catalyze, by crowdsourcing the photographs of ordinary people, the creation of public murals in cities and neighborhoods around the world.

"It is all about making invisible people visible," JR told TED conferees, who have described the semi-anonymous artist as a "true humanitarian" whose art inspires people to look at their villages, neighborhoods and cities differently. "The power of image in a world of image is really strong," JR says. " All I am doing is giving the medium to everyone."

Here's his project and his story:

Here's JR's TED talk Wednesday:

-- Marcia Stepanek

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Blogger Editor said...

I find it cool that you are an award winning journalist, I have always had an interest in journalism. I have blog focusing on social change, and if it's not to much trouble I would like you to check it out, but you don't have to.

September 12, 2011 at 7:54 PM  
Anonymous Zohar Rom said...

JR is amazing!

In my opinion, Parents Circle is still the #1 paradigm-shifter, but he’s in the Top 10.

October 23, 2011 at 10:20 PM  
Blogger Marcia Stepanek said...

eL SEED, in Tunisia, also is amazing, using his street art in hotspots to spread messages of justice and peace. See and

October 24, 2011 at 8:45 AM  

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