The French artist JR is a magician who conjures people onto walls. His method is simple: he travels the world in his “Inside Out” photo-booth truck, taking people’s portraits, which he then pastes onto the sides of buildings. The effect is astounding, sublime. JR has sent a seventy-five-foot-tall ballerina soaring over Tribeca in her tutu, and inscribed the wrinkled faces of two dozen elderly Cubans onto the flaking, cracked walls of Havana. As Raffi Khatchadourian noted in his Profile of the artist, from 2011, JR is often drawn to places whose residents’ humanity and individuality are habitually ignored or subsumed in political rhetoric: Tunisia, Iran, Palestine, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. The work is temporary by design; most of the walls on which he pastes his images will long outlast them, just as they will outlast the people who live within and walk by. The point is to bear witness, to mark the spot of a life with dignity, humor, and grace.
Last week, JR installed a new work in the Mexican city of Tecate, an hour southeast of San Diego: a monumental photograph of Kikito, a smiling toddler, pasted onto a special scaffolding placed just behind the border fence with California. Seen from the American side, the child seems to be peering over the slatted fence as if from inside a crib, getting ready to crawl toward something that’s caught his interest. JR announced the work, last Wednesday, by posting a picture to his Instagram account of a million followers, showing two uniformed Border Patrol officers looking up at the image of Kikito from Californian soil as the installation was taking place. He has since updated his Instagram profile to include a Google Maps pin to the work’s exact location, so that people can visit it. Many have already made the pilgrimage.
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