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Women are the world; art, archetype, anonymity and the TED prize 2011.


Portrait of JR. Courtesy © Christopher Shay

If you don’t have time, just watch this.

I’m sure you’re on the list, the TED list, and you get their mailings. If not, you should. I’ve been there, TED at Monterey and Aspen, but it’s been a bit. Still, I stay connected, hold my profile and spread the world (word).

Some blogs, that relate.

But this reference is about the newest TED prize, called “Wishes big enough to change the world” and its newest celebrant: JR.






TED.org All other photos credit: © jr-art.net

What I might offer, in all the hoopla that surrounds the media event attached to the award, is that this time, the person is unknown, unpublished, not famous and is culled from the crowd of globally amazing people for doing something in relative quiet and anonymity. This is something different. To quote the site, “The TED Prize is designed to leverage the TED community’s exceptional array of talent and resources. It is awarded annually to an exceptional individual who receives $100,000 and, much more important, “One Wish to Change the World.” After several months of preparation, s/he unveils his/her wish at an award ceremony held during the TED Conference. These wishes have led to collaborative initiatives with far-reaching impact.” Notes on JR — his work? JR exhibits his photographs in the biggest art gallery on the planet. His work is presented freely in the streets of the world, catching the attention of people who are not museum visitors. His work mixes Art and Action; it talks about commitment, freedom, identity and limit. As TED notes, in the prize overview, “JR creates pervasive art (Elizabeth Day, Guardian.co.uk) 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.

After these local exhibitions, two important things happen: The images are transported to London, New York, Berlin or Amsterdam where new people interpret them in the light of their own personal experience. And ongoing art and craft workshops in the originating community continue the work of celebrating everyone who lives there.”

As he is anonymous and doesn’t explain his huge full-frame portraits of people making faces, JR leaves the space empty for an encounter between the subject/protagonist and the passer-by/ interpreter.









From the film, Women Are Heroes, JR

“It’s a project that we did about women. Women here, in Africa; we went to Sudan, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Monrovia. We went to see women that has problem in her life. And that have a lot of problem. Because life is hard. They all wanted to share their story, that their story travel. When you hear the story, you are like — whoa. Maybe the person is dying inside. But then, when you ask her to do a face, then you can see life. And then, I say I’m going to paste the photo back in your city. So everybody can see it — for you, and the people here.”
JR, voiceover transcribed.

What struck me, to the nature of his 2008 exploration, was the notion of the celebration of women — women that have been beaten, abused, downtrodden, yet still  carry the burden of the labor of the earth, as mothers. It’s beautiful work, reaching to these people — photographing them, then creating massive installations that are arranged on the streets, the roofs, the roads – for these communities to ponder. These are strikingly deglamorized images, they’re profoundly honest portrayals, but therein lies the beauty of these marvelous women, who seem to sustain and empower the fabric of community, just like they do everywhere in the world.

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