ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
There is a giant baby towering over part of the barrier wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It's a cutout of a black-and-white image of a 1-year-old Mexican boy - his face and hands. He has thick, dark hair and looks as though he's about to smile. This enormous image is supported by wooden scaffolding. It's made to look as though the boy is holding onto the top of the wall and peering over it. He's on the Mexico side in Tecate, peering over at California.
The installation went up this week. It's by the French street artist who goes only by JR. He's known for pasting large portraits on walls and facades all over the world. We reached him in Los Angeles today to talk about his new project on the Mexico border.
JR: The wall is 21 feet high, and we've built the piece to be 64 feet high. So basically we had to build a bigger wall to make this wall look ridiculous.
SHAPIRO: Why did you want to make this wall look ridiculous? Was that the ultimate goal?
JR: No, actually, you know how it started? I dream about walls. I - that's, you know - I'm sure you maybe dream about radio stations and microphones.
JR: I have no idea. I dream about walls because that's what I paste all day. Now, not necessarily wall that divides people, but I dream about walls I can paste maybe because we hear about this wall constantly in the media recently because of some guy wanted to make it bigger. I don't know.
SHAPIRO: Some guy - the president of the United States, you mean.
JR: I woke up, and I was like, wow, I think I imagine a little kid looking over. And in my head, I remember the first thing I thought was, what is he thinking? What a kid that's 1-year-old is actually thinking because he's looking over the wall, but he have no idea that's a wall that divides people. He have no idea of the political context.
So anyway, that sight started. And I went there with some friends, and we started scouting. And we knocked at the first house that was living right by the wall on the Mexican side. And the woman come out, and you know, she followed me on Facebook, which is crazy. It's like, are you sure...
JR: 'Cause I'm doing wallpaper - you sure that's me? And she said, no, no, I follow you. And I was like, OK, look; I'm doing this art project, and I would, you know - we're looking for location. You can use my house. You can use, you know, the side of the - of my house, too. And I was like, thank you. It's actually, you know, too close from the wall. I need a bit more distance. But we'll come back if we do it in the region. We'll let you know. Then we left.
But when we were driving away, I remember there was a little kid looking at us the whole time in his little, you know, crib and with the two hands on the side of the crib looking at us. And I was like, damn, he looked exactly like that kid I dreamed of.
JR: He could be perfect for the project. So we drove back there, asked the mom and said, look; I know we don't even have a rendering or anything of how the project would look, but can I photograph your kid? And when I have the idea ready, I will come back to you and show it to you. Let me know if you agree. And she said of course. And that's how it basically happened.
SHAPIRO: So this child actually is a 1-year-old child who lives right next to the wall.
JR: Oh, yeah. He actually looks over the wall every day.
SHAPIRO: This went up the same week that President Trump announced he is winding down the program called DACA that protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. You've obviously been planning this piece for much longer than that. What do you make of the timing?
JR: You know, for me as an artist, I raise questions. I don't give answers. So I came there to learn more. And to, you know, create a public discussion and to talk with the locals and - on both sides. And yeah, when that came up, we were actually pasting. And we were like, wow. And then suddenly a lot of people started writing me on Instagram and say, hey, you know, I'm a DACA; this means so much for me.
But what I was the most touch of is that most of the people - if you read the comments, they were not talking politics, or they didn't mention the name of the president. It was about people. The mother of the kid told me, I hope this piece will make people realize that we are not animals. We are not criminals. We are not all, like, rapists.
SHAPIRO: I was going to ask you, what did this mother say when she saw her child peering over the wall that she lives right next to?
JR: The mother of the kid told me - she said, look; you know, it's my son. I can recognize him. But I hope for the others, you know, it represents any kid, any person, anyone that have dreams and dreams that are not alienated by any political vision or any prejudice. And you know, I couldn't wish better for the start of a discussion.
SHAPIRO: JR, I know this image has given a lot of delight to people during a week when we could all use it, so thank you for that. And thank you for talking with us.
JR: Thank you so much.
(SOUNDBITE OF SAN FERMIN'S "RECKONING")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.