The globetrotting French artist JR is in Atlanta, putting up three wheat paste murals in the Old Fourth Ward. A project of Living Walls, the murals commemorate the 50th anniversary of the civil rights March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech there. Located at the corners of Auburn Avenue and Hilliard Street, Edgewood Avenue and Jessie Hill Drive, and Edgewood and Hilliard, the sites were selected for their proximity to MLK’s home and church.
JR is known for his socially provocative projects often undertaken in impoverished or troubled locales, such as the Paris public housing where riots occurred in 2005, on the wall separating Israel and Palestine, and in the favelas of Brazil. Through photographic street art, he seeks to empower residents, recruiting them as subjects and participants.
JR’s crew got off to a late start this morning, with trips to Home Depot for supplies and to the airport to fetch photographer Martha Cooper. But once they started, things moved efficiently. The artist and his assistants clambered up and down scaffolding hauling buckets of glue, rollers and squeegees.
Two of the mural images, reproduced in black and white and installed in thin strips up to three stories high, are drawn from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Archives at Emory University, and one was purchased from Corbis Images. All were taken in Washington, D.C.
There’s a shot of the March on Washington by Flip Schulke; Steven Blum’s “Pickets at Dept. of Agriculture,” which was part of the SCLC’s “Poor People’s Campaign” in 1968; and Elaine Tomlin’s “Million Man March” from 1995. Blum’s photo is on view in an exhibition at the Emory library.
JR is definitely the most well-known artist to participate in Living Walls, says founder and Executive Director Moncia Campana, who approached him a year ago about the project. The installation is also partly funded by the French Consulate in Atlanta, which flew in two of the assistants yesterday.
The artist, who maintains studios in Paris, New York and Los Angeles, was awarded the TED Prize in 2011 for his efforts. The prize is given to innovative thinkers, who receive a “wish” and $1 million to make it happen. JR’s wish was to use art to “turn the world inside out.” His film documenting “Inside Out: The People’s Art Project,” the project launched by his TED money, screened at the Tribeca Film Festival this year and debuted on HBO in May.
While it’s naive to think that art can change the world, JR has no illusions. In a TED talk, he declared that “art is not supposed to change the world, to change practical things, but to change perceptions. Art can change the way we see the world.”
Photos of murals by Stephanie Cash.
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