Back in 2009, a project to remember!
Kibera in Kenya is one of Africa’s largest slums and in 2009, street artist JR completed this fantastic project there. This Parisian artist (from Tunisian and Eastern-European parents) describes himself as a graffiti artist, but started taking photographs when he found a camera on the Paris metro when he was a 17-year-old.
He considers himself, in his own words, a hybrid ‘photograffeur’, who pastes in various urban environments enormous black-and-white photographic canvases of eyes and noses and mouths. ‘Today, after more than a year of planning, 2000 square metres of rooftops have been covered with photos of the eyes and faces of the women of Kibera. The material used is water resistant so that the picture itself will protect the fragile houses in the heavy rain season. The train that passes on this line through Kibera at least twice a day has also been covered with eyes from the women that live below it. With the eyes on the train, the bottom half of their faces have been pasted on corrugated sheets on the slope that leads down from the tracks to the rooftops. The idea being that for the split second when the train passes, their eyes will match their smiles and their faces will be complete.’
By using waterproof vinyl material, JR ensured the art intervention might have a practical purpose too. As he states: ‘They don’t understand art just for the love of art; it has to make sense - by helping their roofs to become rainproof, we did made sense and they loved it.’
JR competes with the billboard ads of Coca-Cola and Levi for attention. This exhibition work in Kenya is one of his ambitious community projects he has undertaken to include ‘ordinary people’. JR says he is not political, rather than being an artist with a cause, he is an artist who causes people to think.