TED describes itself as "a small nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading." Actually, it's anything but small. Five years ago, it started giving a handsome annual prize to "exceptional individuals" devoted to changing the world. The TED genie grants those prize recipients One Wish to Change the World — as well as $100,000. Last year it went to chef and food revolutionary Jamie Oliver. This year, the prize goes to an anonymous street artist, who goes by the diminutive name JR.
As the TED site announced yesterday:
JR creates pervasive art 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.
From the project "Woman Are Heroes," Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 2008
From the project "Woman Are Heroes," Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 2008 JR/Agence VU
Part of the "Women Are Heroes" series, rooftops in Kibera, Kenya feature enlarged photographs of the women who live there.
Part of the "Women Are Heroes" series, rooftops in Kibera, Kenya feature enlarged photographs of the women who live there. JR/Agence VU
From the project "Face 2 Face," on the wall separating Israel and Palestine
From the project "Face 2 Face," on the wall separating Israel and Palestine JR/Agence VU
Bridge in Paris, France JR/Agence VU
The Paris-based artist, who calls himself a "photograffeur," combines photography and graffiti in a distinct form of public art. Although his work lives in the streets, it has already been recognized by museums like London's Tate Modern — and he's only in his mid-20s.
JR's projects vary but have one underlying cause: Provoke change by fostering community. "Portrait Of A Generation" showed giant photos of suburban "thugs" outside Paris. "Face 2 Face," which, as the TED site explains, "some consider the biggest illegal photo exhibition ever," explored Israeli-Palestinian tensions. "Women Are Heroes" was an effort to empower women by showing their faces.
And it's all done completely off the radar — hence his disguise and his moniker. His site calls it "l'art infiltrant" — we might call it guerrilla; either way, it's mostly uninvited and always elaborate. The artist makes these enormous installations in towns and cities that have virtually nothing. People come out of the woodwork to help. They start talking. Suddenly there's a sense of community and a cause. At least that's the idea. And that's the idea that TED thinks is worth spreading.
You can learn more about JR on the award site or on his site. Although the artist works anonymously, he emerged from obscurity to accept his prize and, according to Amy Novogratz, director of the TED prize, will be giving an incognito TED presentation soon.