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What does museum education and JR’s street art have in common?

March 20, 2011
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The french street artist JR is the winner of the 2011 Ted Prize. Finally I know more about the project and author behind this stunning pasted photograph of an old woman on a steep staircase in one of Brazil’s most dangerous favelas. I’d seen this and similar works in an alternative arts magazine’s article about Wooster Collective, but knew nothing more. Watch this video to learn more.

JR’s wish is for everyone to participate in a global art project that will turn the world inside out (see his website insideoutproject). He’s started this project that has a huge impact. In the part of the “women are heroes” project that he did in Brazil, he covered so much of the favelas with his black and white photographs that you could see it on the whole hillside from a distance. In his Ted talk he observes that the media could see it from their helicopters and zoom in but when they wanted to know more:

They had to go [into the favelas] and find the women, and get an explanation from them! So you can create a bridge between the media and the anonymous woman.

Let’s think about this for a moment from an abstract point of view. JR’s art opens up conversations. Whether it’s in the Middle East, Africa or in Brazil, he hears stories, involves people in making art, and gets spectators to become participants by asking questions – and perhaps answering them. (Another interesting artist involved in similar projects is Vic Muniz, who, with the WasteLand project, had Brazilian garbage pickers making portraits of themselves – out of garbage.)

Is this not the goal of museums, or of museum education departments at least? Using theories of constructivist learning, museum educators ask questions to help people construct their own meanings around the visual.

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