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BBC Culture

Is JR the new Banksy?

  • Tracks of their tears

    French street artist JR has a grand vision. The self-styled “photograffeur” flyposts giant photographic images in public locations around the world, from a slum in Rio to the West Bank barrier – and, most recently, the New York City Ballet. A new exhibition in Baden-Baden, Germany, provides an overview of JR’s work. One project, Women Are Heroes, has taken the artist to Brazil, India, Cambodia and several African countries to examine the lives of women in marginal communities. In a Kenyan slum, JR plastered 2,000 sq m of rooftop with photos of locals. He also pasted images of their eyes to a train while the rest of their faces covered corrugated sheets on the slope leading from the tracks. For a brief moment as the train passed, their faces were complete. (JR/Museum Frieder Burda)

  • Window to the soul

    In Women Are Heroes, JR creates striking images for complicated issues. Highlighting the dignity of female victims of wartime, street crime, sexual assault and religious extremism, he filmed the project's global artworks for a movie that was nominated for a prize at the 2010 Cannes Festival. This image is from the Morro da Providência favela in Rio de Janeiro, where JR pasted images in 2008. (JR/Museum Frieder Burda)

  • The hills have eyes

    As part of the Brazilian artwork, photos of the eyes of local women were pasted over the outside of makeshift structures to give a female gaze to the hillside. “It’s a project made of bric-a-brac, like the favela itself,” says JR. “We managed to get by in spite of the steep streets, the unsteady houses, the unpredictable electric cables and the exchanges of gunshots where the bullets sometimes go through several houses at once.” (JR/Museum Frieder Burda)

  • Stepping out

    JR invests the money made by showing Women Are Heroes in new projects as well as maintaining the legacy of his previous works; he established a cultural centre in Morro da Providência, where children can practise being ‘favela photographers’. Other works include covering the sides of lorries in Sierra Leone with mural-sized portraits and pasting walls in Jaipur, India, with sticky stencils that collected the coloured powder thrown during the Holi festival to form images of women’s eyes. (JR/Museum Frieder Burda)

  • Topsy turvy

    Another JR project, Unframed, has been continuing in cities since 2010. For the first time, JR used photographs taken by other people – collected from private photo albums and municipal archives. This image, inverting Man Ray’s 1929 Femme aux cheveux longs, was part of an installation in the Swiss town of Vevey. The photograph belongs to a museum in nearby Lausanne. (JR/Museum Frieder Burda)

  • Another brick in the wall

    As part of Unframed, JR covered a building in Washington DC with an image by celebrated civil rights photographer Ernest Withers. It shows the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike – the last march led by Martin Luther King before his assassination that year. In another political project, he organised the largest illegal photography exhibition ever, covering the West Bank barrier with monumental portraits of both Israelis and Palestinians. (JR/Museum Frieder Burda)

  • Toxic paste

    In 2009 JR pasted a photo from Chernobyl on the side of a building in Grottaglie, Italy, drawing attention to the region’s toxic dumping problem. The 2008 film Gomorrah – based on the book by journalist Roberto Saviano – dramatises an organised crime gang's disposal of northern Italy's industrial waste in built-up areas in the south. JR is unafraid of controversy: between 2004 and 2006 he plastered the housing projects of Paris with images of young people in huge scale as part of an illegal project, Portraits of a Generation. The city council later gave it official approval by putting his photos up on public buildings. (JR/Museum Frieder Burda)

  • Hello sailor

    To mark Marseille as the 2013 European City of Culture, JR posted photographs from the albums of those living in the working class neighbourhood of Belle de Mai on walls between the harbour and the train station. He is now plastering locals' images to buildings in Baden-Baden, where visitors can also have their portraits taken as part of the Inside Out project, created when JR won the TED Prize in 2011. Anyone can participate by sending black-and-white portraits of themselves, which are turned into posters they can paste on to buildings in their local communities. As part of the same project, JR pasted posters to the entire surface of New York’s Times Square in 2013. (JR/Museum Frieder Burda)