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  • 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 mean, I can'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, thugs, 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 full 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 thug 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 that 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 square feet 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 pasting 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 they were further than anyone thought.

  • In the Middle East, I experienced my work

  • in places without [many] museums.

  • So the reactions in the street

  • were kind of interesting.

  • So I decided to go further in this direction

  • and go in places where there were 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 association, 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.

  • But that's okay.

  • I wanted them to feel that this art belongs to them.

  • Then the next day, I held a meeting on the main square

  • and some women came.

  • They were all linked to the three kids that got killed.

  • There was the mother, the grandmother, the best friend --

  • they all wanted to shout the story.