Storytelling plays such an essential role in our lives because they create a level of connectedness that’s achieved through relatable or shared experiences. Great stories provide the bridge between our imagination and reality in remarkable ways. When I have a strong emotional response to art it is usually associated with a story that I immediately attribute to a piece. The story that I conjure allows me to relate to the piece in some measurable way.
If you have been following my blog for the past few years (and if you have THANK YOU) you may know that one of the founding artists featured on my site is JR.
I have some of his work in my collection, however if I could own a single piece, it would be a print of this.
The mural was created in Cuba through a collaboration among JR, José Parlá and the Havana Biennale in 2012. The two artists fused their very different creative styles against the aging canvas of old buildings in Havana. Conceptually, JR and Parlá wanted to tell the stories of regular people and their lives in Cuba. JR’s photos were wheatpasted onto walls and combined with symbolic calligraphy scripted by Parlá. The result is a visual representation of the subjects “telling their stories”. The project included 25 murals constructed throughout Havana, and up until that point any public images previously shown in this manner were primarily of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
“I guess there’s always politics in putting up a photo” ~~JR
The duos creative synergies were captured in a 30 minute short film documenting their process and the people photographed in this project. While JR and Parlá did not intend to bring politics into this project, this video brilliantly captures the essence of the individuals featured with some very interesting byproducts. The interpretations of the people in the featured communities reflected the realities of their neighborhoods and living conditions. The lens through which they view the work was influenced by how the society at large reveres art as both a creative expression and a vehicle for political communication. Only politicians and celebrities were put on display in this manner, suggesting that they were the only ones with the right to have likeness shared publicly; the inference being that only the stories of celebrities, musicians and politicians are worth sharing. You could see the paradigm shift taking place once they saw their neighbors highlighted in this way. Their observations were intriguing, however the reactions of the featured subjects themselves were beautifully showcased in the film.
“They are the same. The man is damaged and the wall is as well. The only difference is that the wall isn’t laughing.”
With their aging inextricably linked, the juxtaposition of the aging walls with the aging models were accentuated through Parlá’s technique of ripping through pieces of the portraits revealing the fading facade of the building underneath. The result was a compelling commentary on fading memories accompanied by a visual representation of oral history.
I first heard about this short film during the celebrity saturated media circus that is Art Basel Miami. The documentary was released at an exclusive Basel party at the Standard in 2012. It is refreshing to view this film long after the media hype surrounding JR and the celebrity that he has amassed over the past 2 years. This is a humbling look into the creative process between two artists and the influence of their work on people who deserve to tell their story.
To see the full short film, see the video below or click here.
P.S. I had to share the video for one of the songs featured in the film too. “Yo Aprendi” by Danay Suarez is now on summer rotation in my music collection!