“Can Art Change The War?” – A new street performance by JR in Ukraine
The latest art project by French artist and activist JR depicts a five-year-old Ukrainian girl as the face of the country’s courage against the Russian violent attack.
“This little Ukrainian girl is the future, the hope, the joy, the beauty, and, in this ugly war, she reminds us what our Ukrainian friends are fighting for.”JR
Lifted by more than one hundred Ukrainians on Freedom Avenue in Lviv, the image photographed by a drone from above is on the cover of TIME Magazine.
(swipe to watch the video of the image unfolding from post below)
JR in Ukraine, and the story behind “The Resilience of Ukraine” cover of TIME Magazine
Three million refugees have already fled Ukraine, and among them are the young Valeriia and his mother. Ukrainian photographer Artem Iurchenko captured the child’s smile at the moment when she crossed the border with Poland, and French artist JR used this powerful image for his latest art performance in the streets of Lviv -the Ukrainian city that has become a getaway to the west in the last weeks.
Printed on a 45-meter long tarp, the black-and-white photo of Valeriia was carried around Lviv by over 100 Ukrainians and unfurled outside the National Opera on Freedom Avenue on March 14th.
“People from the army, young girls, old people, young people. All kinds of persons were there helping.”JR
As he always does, JR documented his ‘artivist’ intervention from beginning to end on social networks. His first-hand footage forced his followers to engage with the many women and children in long lines to leave their country and with the volunteers who, among many difficulties, are helping Ukrainian refugees when they cross the border.
(watch the making-of video by JR below)
JR’s Participatory Art Projects
“It’s the first time that there’s a war that’s so close to me that I can literally drive to it. These past few days I was only following the news on social media, but I’d rather be in the action.”JR
This hands-on approach is typical of JR’s latest art projects. All around the world, JR has gathered ordinary people around an art project that brings to the public’s attention the social implications of current political themes undermining that same community. The artist acts as a facilitator of a participatory art process with the local community’s social and political struggles at its center.
A powerful example of how JR carries on a social and political critique by working at the intersection of photography, social engagement, and contemporary art is the gigantic artwork created in 2017 across the border between the USA and Mexico. The installation shows Kikito, a toddler whose house in Tecate overlooks the border fence, playfully peeking over the wall.
On the last day of the installation, JR organized a picnic across both sides of the wall. Families from both the US and Mexico came together to share a meal around a long table stamped with JR’s iconic eyes, turning his art into an international social event.
Another example of how JR’s work highlights the struggles of a community otherwise forgotten is the collaborative artwork created in 2019 within the maximum-security prison in Tehachapi, California. Here, JR collected the testimonies, stories, and portraits of the inmates and some prison guards and pasted the collective picture in the prison’s yard with everybody’s help.
Through this participative art project, JR has opened the doors of a maximum-security prison, but he has also enabled a somewhat unique cooperation between inmates from different ethnicities and rival gangs and between the incarcerated population and the prison guards.
Can Art Change the War?
This is the question addressed by Valeriia’s hopeful smile marching through the streets of Lviv. JR has taken an active stance in solidarity with Ukraine. However, many commentators wonder about the efficacy of the procession organized by JR and, more in general, about the usefulness of contemporary art in resolving the war.
Nevertheless, after this impactful artistic performance, JR also set in motion a charity project to raise funds, through an NFT sale, for creating a logistical chain to support refugees at different Ukrainian border crossings.
“When we left the country, we realized how the conflict impacts people and how the long lines at the border make it very difficult for women and children who are the ones fleeing. We want to bring help at the different border crossings.”JR