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The Inside Out Project

French artist JR last year set out to increase community awareness by having people submit black and white photos, revealing their personal story and journey

Built around the idea of its participants, semi-anonymous French artist JR started his innovative Inside Out project earlier this year. Inside Out asks anyone to contribute a black and white photograph of themselves, uploaded to the project website, that reveals something about their personal story, in order to develop community awareness. The images are then printed in poster size and returned back to their owners to be pasted up somewhere in their city or area. Having already exhibited in countries including Brazil, US, Ireland, Pakistan, Uruguay and Iran, and after receiving a number of messages from members of the community in both Israel and Palestine calling for the project to visit them, JR decided to take his ambitious idea to the war torn countries.

Knowing that access to the Internet was a problem in these situations though, rather than asking the participants to upload their images, JR installed a number of photo booths across Tel Aviv and Haifa, Bethlehem and Ramallah, giving the contributors further access. “We did Inside/Out projects all over the world, so when we received messages from Israelis and Palestinians inviting us to create a project with them, we decided to go there and empower those who were silent” explains JR, “In the context of the Israeli and Palestinian situation reaching a crossroads, a reshaping of the Arab world and of Israeli society, we felt it was time to listen to the silent majority that believe the solution leading to two states for two peoples is waiting for implementation, and will bring peace and shared prosperity”. The series of beautiful, simple and challenging images were exhibited throughout Israel and Palestine earlier this month and will be featured on the growing Inside Out site as well as in a book published in Arabic, Hebrew, French and English.

Dazed Digital: What point is the project looking to make?
We want to show that there is massive support for peace on both sides and that young people want to move forward to secure their future. Our role is simply to create a positive, public visual statement in both Israel and Palestine.

DD: What have people’s reactions been to the project so far in Israel/Palestine?
People in the street were with us. Sometimes, there was discussion and some people refused to participate. Yet overall, we can say that we had strong support. Of course, as usual we also had problems with people who wanted to change the project and make it a propaganda tool for their cause. We always said that we don’t play that game and we’d rather stop the project than be used.

DD: Have there been any difficulties?
Of course. Every time we would do a shoot, we were stopped by the police. And every time, the supporters of the project convinced the police to let us continue.

DD: How personal are the stories that people tell you?
In this project, they don’t tell us long stories as they had for some other projects I have done, but we always have a brief exchange. They take their portrait, they wait for it with us and they paste it somewhere with our help. A Palestinian woman helped us to get in Bir Zeit University to engage women. An Israeli man in Mahane Yehuda didn’t dare post his portrait publicly, but he still wanted to have it pasted. So he invited us to follow him to his home and we posted the portrait in the living room.

DD: Are there any particular stories that you have heard over the years that have made an impact on you?
A young man from Algeria wrote to us asking that we print his portrait, but instead of sending it to his mail address he asked us to post the portrait somewhere in Paris. He had met a woman a few years ago, they had fallen in love but he couldn’t go to Paris with her and they lost contact. He just wanted to make sure that his face would be somewhere in Paris. We don’t do that, people need to paste their portraits themselves, but this time I accepted even if though it had nothing to do with the concept of the InsideOut project.

What is next for the project?
At this minute, I can’t tell you. Maybe the project will continue without me and my team. That would be my favourite option, but we can do it only if the local people, the logistics, the energy are all in sync. 

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