Q&A

Meet JR: Video interview and FAQ about the 2011 TED Prize winner

Posted by: Emily McManus

Want to know more about JR, the winner of 2011′s TED Prize? We did, and his team put together this video, above, with an overview of his work in his own words and images. And below, here’s an FAQ to answer the big questions. First:

Who is JR?
JR is an anonymous photographer and artist. In his work, he embeds into neighborhoods, favelas and villages around the world, photographing the people who live there and learning their stories — and then pasting his striking images onto massive local canvases: buildings, buses, roads and bridges. His latest global art project is called “Women Are Heroes.” (Watch the emotionally powerful trailer.)

Why JR?
JR embodies the many characteristics we look for in a winner: creativity, vision, leadership, and persuasion. His work is not just stunning. It is innovative, using collaborative storytelling techniques, which move the art of photography in a new and exciting direction. His work is about unlocking the power of possibility, revealing our true selves to those who live around us and then sharing those stories far and wide.

JR attracts loyalty and respect from both his subjects, his friends and volunteers who help him mount all of his exhibitions. The scale of his work is huge, not just the size of each individual portrait, or the amount of space each exhibition covers in one place, but the number of communities and countries each project involves.

How will JR work with the TED community?
As with all TED Prize winners, his wish will not be announced until TED2011 (March 2, 2011 to be exact). One thing we know for sure, he will need the support of the thousands of TEDsters around the world to participate and execute his wish on the ground. The collaborative spirit of his work means that he is open and ready to work with the TED community. It is not just an award but a partnership between the winner and TED.

Why a guerrilla artist?
Guerrilla art is about provocation and pushing limits to start dialogue. It has the capacity to engage and break down barriers in ways art in galleries or museums does not. The audience is often those who are least likely to be exposed to art. When guerilla art is practiced as is by JR, the work is not about him but about the community where it is placed — in subject, in execution, and in enjoyment.

Isn’t his work illegal?
JR is anonymous and works under the radar of the authorities. This allows him to exhibit in both unexpected and dangerous places. It allows him to travel to the countries and cities where his work will have the greatest impact. But, while he does not ask permission from the authorities, he does work directly with the communities in which he is exhibiting. People in the exhibit communities don’t just see the work, 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.

Several of his recent projects, such as “Unframed,” are done in conjunction with museums and festivals.

JR doesn’t allow any association with corporations. Will that be a problem?
JR’s success is based on his ability to remain anonymous and independent. We respect that and will nurture that. If this restricts the ways in which corporations can support the wish, we’re confident individuals and groups will step up to the plate in their place.