A couple years ago, I was walking along the Seine in Paris, and noticed that a bridge and the stonewalls by the riverbank were covered by huge eyes in black and white. I found it fascinating, but I unfortunately forgot about it. Big mistake, since the artist behind it is one of the most inspiring street artists of our time. Yes, I’ve heard about Banksy, but believe me when I say that what JR (the street artist I’m about to talk about) is doing, makes me believe that art can really change the world.

JR – the artist. Photo: Gisela Giardino (CC)

JR won the TED Prize with his inside out project earlier this year. Inside out is a large-scale participatory art project that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work. Upload a portrait. Receive a poster. Paste it for the world to see. This way everyone are able to participate in the project, all you need is a camera or someone to take a picture for you. To know more about the project and JR’s work, watch him talk about it in this TED video:

Street-art artists can leave their mark on society, tell everyone that they were there. JR started taking pictures and pasting them at the age of 17, and he soon realized that the city is the best gallery he could imagine. Armed with paper and glue, he later took up the work of changing the world with art.

JR’s street art in London, Photo by delete08 (CC)

During the riots in Paris in 2005, he took pictures of immigrants portrayed as dangerous thugs in the media. In his images, they were showing a different face, posing as caricatures of themselves. The images were pasted on walls in middle-class areas of town, challenging peoples’ prejudices. In Palestine/Israel he took pictures of Palestinians and Israelis doing the same job, and they all agreed to be posted face to face in huge formats in the world’s biggest illegal art exhibition. The images were posted in unavoidable places, on the Israeli and Palestinian side. Through this project he was hoping to contribute to a better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. Read more about the Face2Face project here.

Photo: jr-art.net/

Telling us we are not as different as we think, and empowering women through his “Women are heroes” project in Brazil, Sudan, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Mbo, Cambodia and Liberia – JR is truly committed to changing the world. In this project he is portraying women who’ve had a troubled life, and though his images they all got the chance to share their story. To let their story travel. They share heartbreaking stories involving rape and brutal murder of children, of such character that you wouldn’t expect this person to still be alive inside. He asked these women to make faces, like he did in Paris and Palestine/Israel. Through these images, that were pasted up in the women’s home community, he showed that the women were very much alive and an important voice of the community. Make sure you check out his movie about the project: “Women are heroes.”


It has been important to JR to ensure that the street art that he creates together with the community also feels like their own, and to create a feeling of trust with those he portrays. This closeness to the other person becomes clear in the warmth projected by these portraits of people making funny faces. Entering troubled neighbourhoods in Paris, the Providencia favela in Rio and other shantytowns around the world would have been difficult without building trust and creating a certain closeness to the community. Thanks to JR, women around the would have been able to tell their story.

All photos above from the movie “Women are heroes” by JR

Would you like to join JR in his quest to turn the world inside out? Check out the project page for more info on how you can participate.


Kathrine Opshaug Bakke Kathrine Opshaug Bakke, editor at Travelettes from 2009 to 2013, wrote this post. Originating from Norway, she has been living in Berlin, Lisbon, and Stockholm the past 6 years.

She loves cities with imperfect facades, photography, traveling by bike, vintage hunting, and everything that comes with cheese. Follow her visual diary at anchoredpaperplane.com.