JR the photograffeur
JR, a mysterious figure renowned for adorning downtrodden neighborhoods across the globe with colossal photographs, has earned a reputation as a modern-day artistic hero. JR, short for Jean-René, has gained acclaim for his innovative fusion of photography and street installations. His work challenges conventional artistic boundaries, endeavors to make art accessible to the masses, and embodies a profound commitment to social causes, freedom, identity, and pushing the boundaries of art.
JR’s artistic journey commenced during his teenage years as a graffiti artist in Paris, motivated by the desire to leave his mark on public spaces. This quest led him to precarious locations such as rooftops and subway trains, adding an element of adventure to his artistic pursuits. His introduction to a camera in the Paris Metro spurred him to document his graffiti exploits.
At the tender age of 17, JR began affixing photocopies of these photographs to outdoor walls, effectively creating unauthorized “sidewalk gallery exhibitions.” His travels across Europe brought him into contact with fellow artists who employed outdoor walls as their canvases. These encounters with people from diverse backgrounds, and his deep engagement with their stories, inspired him to take his art to new heights.
JR’s mission was clear: to bring art to the streets and connect with individuals who might never set foot in traditional art spaces like museums. His groundbreaking “Portraits of a Generation” project showcased portraits of young people from housing projects around Paris. What began as an illicit undertaking eventually received the embrace of the City of Paris.
Moreover, JR’s art confronts societal issues and challenges stereotypes. In 2005, he pasted photographs of individuals from Les Bosquets on the walls of Paris to counteract the distorted media portrayal of those involved in the French riots. He firmly believes in the power of art to stimulate conversations and reshape prevailing narratives.
JR’s “Women Are Heroes” project shed light on the dignity of women affected by conflicts. Through his art, he brought attention to their stories, underscoring their resilience and shared humanity. This project took him to countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kenya, Brazil, India, and Cambodia.
In 2011, JR was awarded the TED Prize, and he utilized the prize money to inaugurate the “Inside Out Project.” This initiative empowered people worldwide to express their identities and share their stories through photographic portraits displayed in public spaces. Over 150,000 individuals from 108 countries participated in this transformative project.
In an article for The New York Times, Randy Kennedy wrote, At a time when street art is being embraced not only by the art world but also by branding interests, JR, who disfavors the label of a street artist and instead prefers the term “photograffeur” (graffeur being French for graffiti artist), is renowned for rebuffing corporate sponsorship offers and external assistance. He reinvests most of the earnings from selling his art in galleries and at auctions, with one piece fetching over $35,000 at Sotheby’s in 2009, into the creation of more ambitious projects, and he intends to use the TED prize money for the same purpose.”
JR’s creative evolution continued. He collaborated with the New York City Ballet, delved into choreography, and even employed anamorphosis to create the illusion that I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre had vanished. His “Giants” series captured competing athletes in Rio de Janeiro during the 2016 Olympics.
Furthermore, JR co-directed the documentary film “Faces Places” with Agnès Varda, embarking on a journey across France to meet people and explore their unique visions.
JR’s work has not been without controversy. While many admire his art as a means of unveiling humanity’s shared essence, some critics argue that it transforms graffiti and street art into legitimate, ostentatious, and official forms. JR’s work continually challenges traditional art paradigms, subjecting it to both accolades and scrutiny.
JR’s creative endeavors have now expanded into the realm of filmmaking. His films, including “Les Bosquets” and “Faces Places,” have garnered acclaim at prestigious film festivals. His unwavering dedication to art as a vehicle for social change and self-expression has solidified his status as a prominent artist in the 21st century.
JR’s artistic odyssey serves as a testament to his belief that the street functions as the world’s largest art gallery. He continues to utilize this expansive canvas to drive social change, foster self-expression, and engage with diverse communities.
Artist and Artwork
Nour Zantah was born in 1989 in Homs, Syria. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Damascus in 2011 and her Master’s Degree in International Contemporary Art & Design Practice from Limkokwing University of Creative Technology in Malaysia in 2014. Nour received her Ph.D. in Fine Arts, with a focus on painting, from The University of Northampton in the United Kingdom in 2020. She has exhibited her work all over the world, including Syria, Algeria, Jordan, and the United Kingdom. Following the start of the Syrian revolution, Nour instinctively began to focus her work on the subject of violence and war, with a special interest in the aesthetic and expressive qualities that can be achieved while depicting violence, as well as the complex interactions and inspirations visible in how artists respond to modern media.
On her website about her painting style, technique, and themes Nour Zantah writes “Through my paintings I address the violent events that continue to take place in Syria, seeking to represent the character of the Syrian victims. My paintings are a medium through which to reflect both the trauma I and others have experienced, and the deep emotional and personal impact of war. In essence, the self-expression through my paintings has been, at once, revelatory, exploratory, intellectual, reflective and emotional. My choices and uses of particular painting techniques connect to the subject of violence in significant ways but these are often complex to articulate and unravel. Sometimes these choices are deliberate, but sometimes they may be accidental or intuitive. It is important, therefore, to become immersed in my practice. I often surround myself with an excess of visual information, in the form of collage, images and cut-outs. This is how I learn to focus my attention, while at the same time shutting out the outside world and absorbing the messages from the mass of material in front of me. In time, this leads me to an intuitive semi-automatic activity, which provides a heightened alertness and a conscious state of being elsewhere; i.e. Syria, in such a way as to provoke reflection and, ultimately, clarity.”