Inside Out: The People’s Art Project – A Review

On June 11, 2013 by S. A. Hawkins


If someone gave you a six-figure check and only one stipulation, “make a wish to change the world.” What would your wish be, what would you propose, what would be your plan? This is not the type of project that is for the weak-willed or the faint of heart, this is for the dreamers, the doers, the ones with the ideas that are so big that they simply are not possible without global participation and monetary backing from someone with deep pockets.

In this case, the “someone” that I am thinking of is the TED Foundation, you may recognize the name from the televised proposals for the notorious TED grant, TED Talks. The person that they asked to “make a wish to change the world” in 2011 was street artist, JR. Inside Out: The People’s Art Project is a documentary that follows the project that stemmed from JR receiving the TED Grant.

If you are not familiar with JR, then you most likely do not live in any major city around the world and you do not follow contemporary art. From my point of view, JR is the hottest non-blue chip contemporary photographer, working in one of the newly accepted mainstream art forms, street art. JR comes from a graffiti upbringing, but what he does now is far from his vandalistic roots. JR is known for wheat-pasting large scale portraits in the public realm, traversing the globe, using this most simple of formats to affect change.

The documentary Inside Out: The People’s Art Project chronicles some of the many sub-projects that fell under the umbrella of the JR’s Ted Grant Project. The movie is real, gritty, at times in your face, at other times so touching that all watching the movie with me were wiping tears. How can you sum up a project that touched the world in less than one hour of video? You can’t, all you can do is show some of the projects, some of the photos, some of the people’s who’s lives were touched and ultimately changed for the better because their path’s crossed JR’s.

Back to the start . . . A six figure check and a wish to change the world. How can this be done with something that most all of us do on a daily basis with our cell phones—take a picture? Not only that, but with the most simple and one of the oldest styles of photography—the portrait.

In JR’s own words—”I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project, and together we’ll turn the world . . . INSIDE OUT.” How this photographer managed to accomplish this mind-boggling feat, nearly 150,000 poster sized portraits based in over 98 countries was by not taking one of the pictures himself. He was simply the catalyst, the muse, the vehicle which allowed others to initiate project that they couldn’t have done without assistance.

Following three simple rules, any one, anywhere in the world could upload a digital file to the Inside Out website and JR would print out your portrait in a poster-sized format and mail it back to the submitter. Those three simple rules were 1) It must be a portrait, 2) No logos could be visible in the photo, 3) The photos could not involve any “messages of hate.” That was it, anything else goes, smiles, frowns, funny faces, etc.

The documentary focuses on the human element rather than the project in its schematics, following how this global art project has affected real peoples lives in locations as far apart as North Dakota, Haiti, and Tunisia. As people on the screen cry so do people in the theater.

The Ted Grant projects officially last one year, but JR’s project has continued on after the end of that year. He states “how am I supposed to stop when the photos just keep coming.” JR is now funding the project through his own means, whether it be through generous donations, sales from artworks or fundraisers.

If someone tells you that one person can never change the world, that art can never save lives in poverty ridden countries, that people cannot come together to create something better; rather than wasting your breathe trying to explain all of the points in which they are wrong . . . Simply give them a copy of JR’s “Inside Out, The People’s Art Project” and talk to them an hour later.

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