Combating Religious Prejudice and Turning the World “Inside Out”

Imagine a rabbi, an imam and a priest pulling the same comical face and having each of these images displayed side by side on either plane of the wall separating Israeli and Palestinian territory in the size of a Times Square billboard. Deemed impossible by the “experts,” street artist and 2011 TED Prize winner, JR, and his partner Marco, thought they’d give it a try.

Their vision turned into the Face2Face project that took portraits of 41 courageous Palestinians and Israelis, each with the same profession, and pasted them in monumental formats in villages throughout both disputing territories. Israeli and Palestinian taxi drivers, sculptors, actors and teachers accepted to play the same character as their counterpart and were photographed with a 28 millimeter camera. One would not be displayed without the other. (At left: Fathers of the three Abrahamic faiths pasted on the separation wall/ security fence, Palestinian side – March 2007.)

Exposing ridiculous faces of ‘the other’ throughout Israeli and Palestinian towns stirred a variety of emotions throughout the streets, yet it brought to light our common humanity. “The Torah teaches us that ‘every human being is created in the image of God.’ So if everyone has different faces that they give, they are also different faces of God,” explains Face2Face participant Rabbi Reb Eliyahu.[1]
At some point during the project, JR says that, “the desire for peace overwhelmed the will of victory.”[2] JR demonstrated that the real heroes are therefore not where we often think they are because we are surrounded by them, every day, in the streets.
“I am not an artist with a cause but an artist who causes people to think,” notes JR.[3] The accessibility and magnitude of his art causes the spectator to draw their own inference about what it means to them—from a transformative message to a work of art or a piece of meaningless paper.
When Marco distributed the photos in the streets, people were perplexed as to who the Israeli and who the Palestinian was on each portrait. While the authorities concluded that the Face2Face project was incomprehensible, many onlookers ultimately deduced that the ridiculous images were a metaphor for the perennial conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
The meaning of JR’s art is not limited to the picture. He explains that in his work “an image is just the first layer of the work. The context, the people behind it, and the time it took to create it, gives the actual frame of the artwork.”[4] In JR’s absence, a man in Ramallah would have to explain every day why he accepted to have an Israeli’s face pasted on his property. Some people were enraged, some confused, but many came to the realization that Palestinians and Israelis are in fact more similar than they are different.
JR’s 28 Millimeters seeks to raise questions. In Paris he stimulated debate about minorities with Portraits of a Generation, in Asian, African and South American cities he focused his lens on the victims of patriarchic households with Women are Heroes and Wrinkles of the City highlighted the living memory of the aging populations of Shanghai, Cartagena and Los Angeles. Through each of these projects JR has stimulated public debate by sharing the messages of the world’s victimized, oppressed, marginalized and forgotten and have them travel throughout the world.
(At right: Pasting of a minaret in Vevey, Switzerland after Switzerland passed a law banning their construction in 2009.) 
"I would like to bring art to improbable places, create projects so huge with the community that they are forced to ask themselves questions. I want to try to create images of hot spots such as the Middle East or Brazil that offer different points of view from the ones we see in the worldwide media which are often caricatures,” says JR.[5]
A Wish to Turn the World “Inside Out”
Now imagine the possibility of JR changing our position from a participant into a creator of a global art project. When JR was awarded the 2011 TED Prize, he was given one wish to “change the world.” His wish: to turn the world Inside Out. JR describes his role as a “printer” for anyone who wants to share something they would like to communicate with the rest of the world. Participants are asked to submit their portraits, which are printed as large posters at the Inside Out studio and sent back to creators for them to display in their communities. Each action is exhibited on the project’s website and comes with a statement concerning something the participants care about.
Inside Out is focused on the power of art and ideas to change perceptions, attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. In Tunisia during the Arab Spring, people replaced Ben Ali’s face with a portrait of their own. A group action on the border of the U.S. and Mexico took place where over a thousand individuals communicated a message of peace and unity. In Haiti, a group action entitled “Rising Souls” is scheduled to occur on the walls of Port-au-Prince on the second anniversary of the earthquake to show a new side of Haiti and through Haitian eyes.
(At left: Inside Out group action; Juarez, Mexico; 2011.)
Whether or not JR’s work has changed the world is a decision people can make for themselves. What is certain is that JR has transcended the limits of humanitarian photography, which is often constrained to the portrayal of poverty and suffering – images to which the average person has unfortunately become desensitized. Through JR’s work on the other hand we see personality, humor and life. He has discovered a new way to reach into people's hearts or at the very least, cause them to blink an eye.
–    JR’s website
–    Participate in the Inside Out project by visiting the Inside Out Website
– Nastasia Bach, Conflict Resolution Intern

[1] qtd. in Face2Face (book)

[2] Excerpt from Face2Face

[4] “A Conversation With JR, Intrepid French Street Artist,” The Atlantic, Sept 6 2011,

[5] Excerpts from an interview of JR published in Beaux Arts Magazine, October 2009