Week 9: Socially Engaged Art

I recently came across the work of the 2011 TED Prize winner JR. The French artist based in Paris focuses on work that is of social & political relevance and questions issues of identity, history and even war. “JR remains anonymous -– never showing his full face, revealing his name, or explaining his huge portraits –- to allow for an encounter between the subject and passers-by….”

“JR creates what might be called ‘pervasive art.’ Working with a team of volunteers in various urban environments, he mounts enormous black-and-white photo canvases that spread on the buildings of the slums around Paris, on the walls in the Middle East, on broken bridges in Africa, and across the favelas of Brazil. These images become part of the local landscape and capture people’s attention and imagination around the world.”


His work brought home to me something I had read in Grant Kester’s book of the concept of L’Amour fou: “By the early twentieth century the consensus among advanced artists and critics was that, far from communicating with viewers, the avant-garde work of art should radically challenge their faith in the very possibility of rational discourse. This tendency is based on the assumption that the shared discursive systems on which we rely for our knowledge of the world (linguistic, visual, etc.) are dangerously abstract and violently objectifying. “

“Art’s role is to shock us out of this perceptual complacency, to force us to see the world anew. This shock has borne many names over the years: the sublime, alienation effect, L’Amour fou, and so on.”

Grant Kester, in his book “Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art”

JR’s work parallels the work of artists like Bansky in the UK and Princess Hijab in France. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading significant ideas worth spreading. It has previously recognized Al Gore, Jane Goodall,  Jamie Oliver and inventor Robert Fischell. This is the first time an artist doing work such as JR has been recognized.

JR- Rio Project: Turning hillsides into dramatic visual landscapes by applying images to the facades of favela homes.

JR- Rio Project: Turning hillsides into dramatic visual landscapes by applying images to the facades of favela homes.

JR - Rio Project: Turning hillsides into dramatic visual landscapes by applying images to the facades of favela homes.


About leltant

Laura El-Tantawy is an Egyptian documentary artist based in London, UK. She studied journalism & political science at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia (USA) & started her career as a newspaper photographer with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Sarasota Herald-Tribune (USA). Her work has been exhibited in the US, Europe and Asia. She exclusively works on self-initiated projects. Laura lives between the UK, her country of birth, and Egypt, where she associates most of her childhood memories. She is currently completing a masters degree at the University of Westminster in London where she is studying mixed media, with emphasis on film-making. She is working on producing a short film about farmer suicides in India.
This entry was posted in discursive and socially engaged art, laura, tp0910. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Week 9: Socially Engaged Art

  1. paula roush says:

    Laura, it’s interesting to rething JR’s work at the light of Kester’s essay and his assertions about the shock tactics used by the modern avant-gardes; the sucess of JR’s practice and its recognition by the technological realm of TED may suggest that the social ethic and l’amour fou need to coexist side by side, which seems to be your suggestion

  2. leltant says:

    hi paula – yes, i do feel just as you described and i think JR’s work is really reminiscent of that. I don’t think JR intends to shock with his work and i certainly don’t think that “shock value” is the only thing one walks away with in his work. But i certainly feel part of the impact his work has comes from the huge physical scale it takes, which eventually reflects upon the impact it has on the community it is within and on the viewers. I think his work is extremely powerful and I am so happy I discovered it ==> L.

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