Last night, incognito French street artist JR joked with Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report, the satirical news program on Comedy Central.
JR rose to celebrity status after winning the TED Prize in 2011. Shortly after, he launched Inside Out, a large-scale participatory art project known for its pervasive graffiti art which spreads, often uninvited, onto public spaces around the world, including buildings in the Parisian slums, walls in the Middle East, broken bridges in Africa and in favelas in Brazil.
“Are you a criminal?” jokes Colbert.
JR – cloaked in his signature fedora and sunglasses – admits that most of what he does is not entirely legal. “Depending on which country we’re talking about. The United States – they’ve been nice to me … for now,” he says, with a rebellious smile.
Inside Out is about connecting communities, raising awareness, inciting change, and showing the world its true face. In his TED Prize wish, JR called on people to join him in turning the world “inside out” through what has become a global participatory photo project that’s even graced the walls of famous landmarks such as the Pantheon in Paris.
“What’s your point?” teases Colbert, after showing the audience a photo collage of some of JR’s installations, including photos of women in the slums of Rio de Janeiro; the massive portrait of a girl in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, displayed as a message to drone operators; and photos of Israelis and Palestinians alike on a wall in the West Bank, symbolic in that it seeks to humanize people affected by war in the region.
Acknowledging JR’s preference for anonymity, Colbert assures the native French speaker not to worry, “We’ve disguised your voice with that outrageous accent.”
In the end, however, maybe Colbert did walk away learning something new about JR’s revolutionizing work, which he described as being like “a selfie of someone else.” – “What you’re saying is, I have to consider every person as human?”
Watch the full interview here.