Last night ABC Home hosted a “Love In Action” conversation with street artist JR and Deepak Chopra. JR is a contemporary artist who won the 2011 TED Prize—a $100,000 award—and Deepak Chopra is an Indian alternative-medicine doctor and writer on subjects of spirituality and mind-body medicine.
The conversation centered around JR’s new project, Inside Out—a large-scale participatory piece that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of public artwork.
Deepak Chopra began the conversation by asking about JR‘s background. The artist explained that as a French teenager, only thirteen when he started making street art, he wrote his name in graffiti around Paris as “a way of saying, ‘I am here, I exist.’”
He was further drawn into the public art scene in Paris after finding a camera in the Metro. At seventeen, he would display black and white photocopies of his graffiti art in metro cars by unscrewing the casings that held maps of the underground. He explained his constant running from Parisian cops and, in contrast, the sense of community that he felt when displaying his work in the Parisian suburbs.
His actions as an artist grew into a voice for disempowered peoples. In 2006, he managed to illegally post huge format photographs of suburban “thugs” in the bourgeois centers in Paris. In 2007, his project “Face 2 Face” juxtaposed huge portraits of Israelis and Palestinians in urban areas on both sides of the Separation wall that divides the two peoples. Last night he talked of this project, explaining that his mission was to deal with the image of the “side” (or as Chopra interceded, the image of “the other”) and its (dis)ability to dehumanize the opponent.
Art as a force of change within a community and an arbiter of human dignity was at the center of the talk. JR’s contribution to the art world is steeped in this mission while Chopra also had much to say on this subject. He told his audience the story of Janusz Korczak, a Polish-Jewish pediatrician who in 1940, during the Second World War, chose to live in an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto.
He helped the children by distracting them. He had the children put on a performance of The Post Office, a play by Tagore. When the Germans came into to take the children to the gas chamber, an eyewitness described that the children did not weep nor run, and in Szpilman’s book, The Pianist, it is described that the children clung to their teacher, singing in chorus. These heavy topics were balanced with moments of light-heartedness. JR explained his often awkward encounters with airport security guards as he carries on pounds of glue that look a lot like cocaine.
Anyone interested can participate in JR’s Inside Out project; Just visit the website, enter your information and mission, submit a portrait of yourself and you will receive a large-scale print of the photograph in the mail. It’s up to you to contribute to the artistic movement by pasting your image in a space, public or private. For more info, check out this video.