Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Two weeks ago I was in my studio in Paris, and the phone rang and I heard, "Hey, JR, you won the TED Prize 2011. You have to make a wish to save the world." I was lost. I couldn't save the world; nobody can. The world is fucked up. Come on, you have dictators ruling the world, population is growing by millions, there's no more fish in the sea, the North Pole is melting, and as the last TED Prize winner said, we're all becoming fat. (Laughter) Except maybe French people. Whatever. So I called back and I told her, "Look, Amy, tell the TED guys I just won't show up. I can't do anything to save the world." She said, "Hey, JR, your wish is not to save the world, but to change the world." "Oh, all right." (Laughter) "That's cool." I mean, technology, politics, business do change the world -- not always in a good way, but they do. What about art? Could art change the world? I started when I was 15 years old. And at that time, I was not thinking about changing the world; I was doing graffiti -- writing my name everywhere, using the city as a canvas. I was going in the tunnels of Paris, on the rooftops with my friends. Each trip was an excursion, was an adventure. It was like leaving our mark on society, to say, "I was here," on the top of a building. So when I found a cheap camera on the subway, I started documenting those adventures with my friends and gave them back as photocopies -- really small photos just that size. That's how, at 17 years old, I started pasting them. And I did my first expo de rue, which means sidewalk gallery. And I framed it with color so you would not confuse it with advertising. I mean, the city's the best gallery I could imagine. I would never have to make a book and then present it to a gallery and let them decide if my work was nice enough to show it to people. I would control it directly with the public in the streets. So that's Paris. I would change -- depending on the places I would go -- the title of the exhibition. That's on the Champs-Elysees. I was quite proud of that one. Because I was just 18 and I was just up there on the top of the Champs-Elysees. Then when the photo left, the frame was still there. (Laughter) November 2005: the streets are burning. A large wave of riots had broken into the first projects of Paris. Everyone was glued to the TV, watching disturbing, frightening images taken from the edge of the neighborhood. I mean, these kids, without control, throwing Molotov cocktails, attacking the cops and the firemen, looting everything they could in the shops. These were criminals, crooks, dangerous destroying their own environment. And then I saw it -- could it be possible? -- my photo on a wall revealed by a burning car -- a pasting I'd done a year earlier -- an illegal one -- still there. I mean, these were the faces of my friends. I know those guys. All of them are not angels, but they're not monsters either. So it was kind of weird to see those images and those eyes stare back at me through a television. So I went back there with a 28 mm lens. It was the only one I had at that time. But with that lens, you have to be as close as 10 inches from the person. So you can do it only with their trust. So I took four portraits of people from Le Bosquet. They were making scary faces to play the caricature of themselves. And then I pasted huge posters everywhere in the bourgeois area of Paris with the name, age, even building number of these guys. A year later, the exhibition was displayed in front of the city hall of Paris. And we go from took images, who've been stolen and distorted by the media, who's now proudly taking over his own image. That's where I realized the power of paper and glue. So could art change the world? A year later, I was listening to all the noise about the Middle East conflict. I mean, at that time, trust me, they were only referring to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. So with my friend Marco, we decided to go there and see who are the real Palestinians and who are the real Israelis. Are they so different? When we got there, we just went in the street, started talking with people everywhere, and we realized that things were a bit different from the rhetoric we heard in the media. So we decided to take portraits of Palestinians and Israelis doing the same jobs -- taxi-driver, lawyer, cooks. Asked them to make a face as a sign of commitment. Not a smile -- that really doesn't tell about who you are and what you feel. 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. We launched the biggest illegal art exhibition ever. We called the project Face 2 Face. 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." I love the way people will ask me, "How big will my photo be?" "It will be as big as your house." When we did the wall, we did the Palestinian side. So we arrived with just our ladders and we realized that they were not high enough. And so Palestinians guys say, "Calm down. No wait. I'm going to find you a solution." So he went to the Church of Nativity and brought back an old ladder that was so old that it could have seen Jesus being born. (Laughter) We did Face 2 Face with only six friends, two ladders, two brushes, a rented car, a camera and 20,000 sq. ft. of paper. We had all sorts of help from all walks of life. Okay, for example, that's Palestine. We're in Ramallah right now. We're pasting portraits -- so both portraits in the streets in a crowded market. People come around us and start asking, "What are you doing here?" "Oh, we're actually doing an art project and we are placing an Israeli and a Palestinian doing the same job. And those ones are actually two taxi-drivers." And then there was always a silence. "You mean you're pasting an Israeli face -- doing a face right here?" "Well, yeah, yeah, that's part of the project." And I would always leave that moment, and we would ask them, "So can you tell me who is who?" And most of them couldn't say. (Applause) We even pasted on Israeli military towers, and nothing happened. When you paste an image, it's just paper and glue. People can tear it, tag on it, or even pee on it -- some are a bit high for that, I agree -- but the people in the street, they are the curator. The rain and the wind will take them off anyway. They are not meant to stay. But exactly four years after, the photos, most of them are still there. Face 2 Face demonstrated that what we thought impossible was possible -- and, you know what, even easy. We didn't push the limit, we just showed that we're further than anyone thought. In the Middle East, I experienced my work in places without [many] museums. So this direction in the street were kind of interesting. So I decided to go further in this direction and go in places where there are zero museums. When you go in these developing societies, women are the pillars of their community, but the men are still the ones holding the streets. So we were inspired to create a project where men will pay tribute to women by posting their photos. I called that project Women Are Heroes. When I listened to all the stories everywhere I went on the continents, I couldn't always understand the complicated circumstances of their conflict, I just observed. Sometimes there was no words, no sentence, just tears. I just took their pictures and pasted them. Women Are Heroes took me around the world. Most of the places I went to, I decided to go there because I've heard about it through the media. So for example, in June 2008, I was watching TV in Paris, and then I heard about this terrible thing that happened in Rio de Janeiro. The first favela of Brazil named Providencia. Three kids -- that was three students -- were [detained] by the army because they were not carrying their papers. And the army took them, and instead of bringing them to the police station, they brought them to an enemy favela where they get chopped into pieces. I was shocked. All Brazil was shocked. I heard it was one of the most violent favelas, because the largest drug cartel controls it. So I decided to go there. When I arrived -- I mean, I didn't have any contact with any NGO. There was none in place -- no tourist agent, no NGOs, nothing -- no eyewitnesses. So we just walked around, and we met a woman, and I showed her my book. And she said, "You know what? We're hungry for culture. We need culture out there." So I went out and I started with the kids. I just took a few photos of the kids, and the next day I came with the posters and we pasted them. The day after, I came back and they were already scratched.