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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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Al-Jazeera's Wadah Khanfar

Al-Jazeera Chief Wadah Khanfar addressed this year's TED conference about the civic uprisings sweeping the Arab world and gave his take on where the unrest might be leading. He said he believes that social media are helping to make the Middle East and northern Africa more democratic.

"The future we were dreaming for has arrived," Khanfar told conferees (see the video of Khanfar's talk, below, made public yesterday). "A new generation, well-connected and inspired by universal values and global understanding, has created a new reality for us. We've found a new way for us to express our feelings and dreams. ...The regimes who invested billions of dollars in security systems collapsed and disappeared because of the voices of the people. They (the regime) tried to kill (the people), but the young people found something called Facebook and Twitter...and we found that all of these people in the streets are our reporters now."

Here's Khanfar:

(Photo of Khanfar, top, courtesy TED Conferences)

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