A Sudanese high jumper towers over Rio de Janeiro, arching over a 25-story building in the Flamengo district. A triathlete plows through the waters of Botafogo Bay, mid-stroke, her wingspan as wide as a city bus, while a giant diver shows us the soles of his feet as he leaps from the stone jetty in Barra da Tijuca. Meanwhile, a truck disguised as a camera is circling the city, and a fat silver moon is taking shape atop a favela cultural center. It looks like JR is back in town.
Artist JR, winner of the 2011 TED Prize, created these three massive athletes — he calls them the “giants” — for the Rio Olympics, along with a city-wide Inside Out photo campaign that will shoot street portraits throughout the Games.
JR is known for his large-scale black-and-white wall pastings, but the “giants” represent a new technique for him — they’re suspended in the air on scaffolding, in vastly ambitious site-specific works that took almost a year to plan.
JR feels strong ties to Rio; his classic work “Women Are Heroes” speckled the city’s hillside favelas with photographs of women’s eyes. Watching the Olympic Games here is especially meaningful to him, he wrote on Instagram before the Opening Ceremony: “Eighty years ago the Olympics happened in Berlin. Hitler wanted to use them to demonstrate the supremacy of the Aryan race. Today they will open in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a ‘mixed race’ country. Even though Brazil is going through political and economic turmoil and the necessity of the Games at this moment can spark controversy, the Olympic spirit will joyfully be welcomed.”
JR has also brought his TED Prize wish to the games. The Inside Out photobooth truck is parked at Praça Maua through 14 August, and will then spend a week inside the Olympic Village, right up until the August 21 close of the Games. Passersby line up to have their portrait taken, and then paste it on the ground, creating a patchwork of images representing people from all parts of the world.