The Korea Herald


JR brings together projects from around the world in Seoul

By Park Yuna

Published : May 3, 2023 - 09:07

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"Women Are Heroes, Action in Favela Morro da Providencia, Favela by Day, Rio de Janeiro" by JR (JR-ART.NET)

French artist JR claims to own the largest gallery in the world -- the walls around the cities he travels to. The photographer has earned global recognition in his creation of participatory projects across the world that deliver powerful messages in collaboration with citizens.

The photographer has unveiled his first large-scale exhibition in Seoul at the Lotte Museum of Art, introducing his projects and helping people understand the intention behind his works.

JR has carried out a number of participatory projects -- from the Paris suburbs to the slums of Brazil and the streets of Istanbul. Creating huge portraits of little known people from the local communities, JR seeks to bring about a change in perception about the world.

“My aim was always to let the work speak for itself,” says a quote from the artist written on the wall.

JR speaks to the press on Tuesday at the Lotte Museum of Art in Seoul. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald) JR speaks to the press on Tuesday at the Lotte Museum of Art in Seoul. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

JR started his career in art by creating street graffiti. In 2001, he began documenting fellow graffiti artists in action with a camera he found by chance, which led him to pursue a life as an artist. The artist’s life-changing camera is on display at the exhibition.

His “Women Are Heroes” project was started in 2008 after the artist learned about the deaths of three young men in the Morro da Providencia favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the subsequent riots ignited by the involvement of the Brazilian military.

Working with the town's residents for a month, he took photographs of the eyes and faces of the local women, including some related to the murdered men. The blown-up images were pasted on 40 buildings along the hillside of the favela with the giant faces and eyes staring down at Rio.

An installation view of the exhibition's An installation view of the exhibition's "The Wrinkles of the City" section at JR's solo exhibition at the Lotte Museum of Art in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

The exhibition in Seoul, “JR: Chronicles,” features more than 140 photographs, videos and anamorphic pieces that shed light on the artistic world of JR. The exhibition, which was presented at the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 2019, will run through Aug. 6 in Seoul.

When asked about starting a project in South Korea, he left open the possibility of doing some work here, but said such an undertaking would require time to learn about the city and engage with the locals.

“The city is very intimidating at first when you come. I feel like I need to spend much more time to discover (the) layers of little parts of the city,” the artist told the press on Tuesday. He arrived in Seoul on Saturday and is due to leave Wednesday.

For the exhibition, JR created an anamorphosis, an optical image illusion, inspired by the Han River that runs through Seoul. The work is scheduled to be unveiled Wednesday after some final touches have been completed.

The exhibition also includes works from "The Wrinkles of the City" project that began in 2006 and spanned through 2015 in Cartagena, Spain. He collaborated with the community to create large-scale portraits, including that of the oldest inhabitants of the port, which was the site of a major rebellion during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

“I see (the city) as a face, as a bit of a story,” the artist said in a video clip about the project, which challenged people’s cultural perception of the elderly by celebrating their aging as a symbol of beauty on a monumental scale.