Super-Sized Street Art Heralds Rio Olympics
Just in time for the 2016 Rio Olympics, two super-sized athletes have appeared on the streets of Rio, already in muscular motion. Each one is the work of French artist JR, formed from photographs printed on enormous sheets of fabric and stretched from towering scaffolds to render the figures soaring through the air.
One of the installations is a diver, appearing to be plunging from a dock in the city’s Barra neighborhood, as if beginning a race with arms boldly outstretched. The other is a high jumper, this one a specific sports star: Cologne’s Mohamed Younes Idriss, who won a gold medal at the 2011 All Africa Games and represented his country at the 2013 IAFF World Championships, but didn’t qualify for this year’s Olympics games because of an injury. Though he may not be competing, JR has still given him a spot in Rio — specifically, Idriss is seen vaulting above a 25-story apartment building at the center of the city, larger than life.
The installations may be interpreted as commentary on the superhuman status we tend to assign to world-class sports stars, as well as the leaps of faith that their careers require, with their fortune so tenuously bound to their bodily frames.
In an Instagram caption posted on the day of the opening ceremonies, however, JR suggested an optimistic symbolism underlying the gigantic art. Referencing the historic significance of Brazil as this year’s Olympics location, he wrote, “80 years ago the Olympics happened in Berlin. Hitler wanted to use them to demonstrate the supremacy of the Aryan race. Today they will open in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a ‘mixed race’ country (‘país mestiço’). Even though Brazil is going through political and economic turmoil and the necessity of the Games at this moment can spark controversy, the Olympic spirit will joyfully be welcomed by the people tonight.”
The installations also fit within the JR’s ongoing Inside Out initiative. The public art project, founded several years ago with funding from his 2011 TED Prize, invites people around the world to share their personal tales, regardless of prestige, aiming to provide an outlet for otherwise untold stories. Idress, in particular, seems like JR’s ideal figure to portray: not quite in the limelight, but still integral to international athletic culture. But he’s also aiming to show appreciation for the volunteers behind the scenes at the events. He explains via The Inside Out Project on Instagram, “So much attention is paid to the athletes. But we would like to say thank you to all the behind the scenes people that make the opening ceremony possible. That is 3700 cast, 460 staff, 600 volunteers, 1200 crew, 1600 contractors, in addition to the countless number of officers that are making sure everyone is safe.”
Ordinary Rio residents and visitors are invited to add their own portraits to the project, thanks to a photobooth truck parked on the Olympic Boulevard everyday from 12-8pm until August 14th. Anyone who stops by gets a poster to affix somewhere in the city, and volunteers are also wheatpasting the images on a large wall at Praça Mauá. (If you’re in town, the team is looking for help!)
All of JR’s work is, as he says, about “raising questions” and encouraging passersby to maintain an open-minded view. Regardless, his portrait installations — whether enormous athletes soaring gracefully overhead or everyday citizens placed directly at eye level — are jaw-dropping in scale, inclusivity, and emotion.
Enjoy the track “Mappa Mundi” by Fitz Ellarald while viewing the additional work below.
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