Most people would probably agree that art can change the world in ways big and small. Art has the power to spark life-changing realizations that embolden people to act — inspire revolutions, and to quell them. You can’t argue with that, I wouldn’t think.
And since our mandate is to prove this by putting it into action, let’s look at some of the greatest past examples.
One of the ways in which art has impact, is in holding a mirror up to the world and saying, “Look at this, this is you. This is you in all your tragedy, all your horror, all your evil, and all your beauty.”
A compelling example of this is the French artist and photographer JR, who operates in the streets of the world posting portraits and images in a bid to create space for discussion about the state of it.
“JR creates ‘Pervasive Art’ that spreads uninvited on the buildings of the slums around Paris, on the walls in the Middle-East, on the broken bridges in Africa or the favelas in Brazil. People who often live with the bare minimum discover something absolutely unnecessary. And they don’t just see it, they make it. Some elderly women become models for a day; some kids turn artists for a week. In that Art scene, there is no stage to separate the actors from the spectators.” http://www.jr-art.net/jr
In 2007, JR and someone named “Marco” (I cant’t find anything more on him than that) created Face 2 Face, the largest illegal art exhibition ever, in which they posted massive portraits of Israelis and Palestinians side by side in eight Palestinian and Israeli cities, on buildings and other surfaces, including the separation wall between Israel and Palestine.
In a 2011 TED talk, JR said:
“We decided to go there and see who are the real Palestinians and who are the real Israelis. Are they so different? […] We decided to take portraits of Palestinians and Israelis doing the same jobs — taxi-driver, lawyer, cooks […] They all accepted to be pasted next to the other. I decided to paste in eight Israeli and Palestinian cities and on both sides of the wall.
“The experts said, ‘No way. The people will not accept. The army will shoot you, and Hamas will kidnap you.’ We said, ‘Okay, let’s try and push as far as we can.’ […] We did Face 2 Face with only six friends, two ladders, two brushes, a rented car, a camera and 20,000 square feet of paper. We had all sorts of help from all walks of life.”
The scope of Face 2 Face is amazing, and JR went on to travel the rest of the world, to developing countries, to take portraits of the people living in poverty, and in the midst of conflict, and to give them faces, and paste those faces in amazing places where they can be seen in incredible ways – like from the sky. The entire outface of a Brazilian hillside village, on the leaky roofs on homes in Africa, on Bridges, cliffs, and trains.
In 2010, his film Women Are Heroes was presented at Cannes, and in 2011 he won the $100,000 TED prize, with which he created Inside Out, “an international participatory art project,” in which people were encouraged to have their picture taken in gigantic photobooths installed in their cities – from New York to Fukushima to Tel Aviv and Bethlehem – and paste a giant version of that image wherever they chose, “to support an idea and share their experience.” As of December 2016, over 320,000 people from more than 139 countries had participated.
In Israel and Palestine, the project was dubbed Time is Now, Yalla! (“Yalla” being an Arabic word used by both Israelis and Palestinians, meaning “Let’s go.”)
Palestinians and Israelis were invited to visit the booths and, in exchange for a personal statement, received large-format portraits which were posted throughout the region. Independent teams of photographers and pasters were also on hand to paste, and engage new participants. About 1,000 photos were created each day.
“In some ways, art can change the world. 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. Art can create an analogy. Actually the fact that art cannot change things makes it a neutral place for exchanges and discussions, and then enables you to change the world.”
Watch the TED Talk: