JR, the Parisian street artist, was just announced as the recipient of the 2011 TED Prize, which awards $100,000 to those who exemplify the tenets of innovation and creativity the TED Community espouses. TED sought someone "who has a track record for changing the world in innovative ways, who hopefully has mobility and charisma, and who works on a global level," TED Prize director Amy Novogratz tells Fast Company. "And he does all those things." JR, who keeps mum on the real name his initials stand for, joins the ranks of Bill Clinton, E.O. Wilson, and U2's Bono, previous prize recipients.
JR's canvas is the world. The Parisian guerilla artist eschews museums, favoring the crumbling walls of the world's slums to the austere halls of its museums. (Even so, the Tate Modern did give him 100 feet of an external wall, and a 2009 auction of one of his prints fetched over 35 grand). Somewhat in the vein of the British artist Banksy, well known for his politically charged graffiti murals, JR will show up at slum, shantytown, or favela, often braving streets so mean that its children run around in bulletproof jackets. Once there, he enlists a crew of locals and erects enormous black-and-white photographic canvases on the walls, typically human faces or figures that lend a dignified air to a forgotten neighborhood.
How does JR ingratiate himself, when he waltzes into a new ghetto or warzone in his hipster attire? (The image here was taken in Rio's dangerous Morro da Providencia favela.) Making clear that he rejects corporate sponsorship is one technique. But the bottom line, he told The Guardian recently: "Everything is about eye contact."
"I'm not trying to use the favela to advertise Red Bull or BMX bikes," JR told the Guardian. He declines corporate sponsorship, but funds his far-flung projects by auctioning prints of his work.
"The fact that I stay anonymous means I can exhibit wherever I want," JR told the Guardian.
The black-and-white image is JR's, one of six commissioned by the Tate Modern in 2008 for display on the museum's river facade.
The hills have eyes in this installation in a Brazilian favela. It's part of a larger JR project called "Women Are Heroes," with other works in Sudan, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Liberia, and elsewhere.
JR calls himself a "photograffeur," punning on the French word for graffiti.
A closer look at a Morro da Providencia facade, part of the "Women Are Heroes" project.
A series of portraits of Israeli and Palestinian faces. First displayed along the barrier separating Israel from the Palestinian Territories in 2007, these images later moved to walls in other cities, including Paris, shown here.