Revisiting JR’s “Wrinkles of the City” in Shanghai

Some of you may have seen a giant photo booth truck in and around Shanghai with people queuing to have their portraits taken. A friend recently shared snaps of his family’s prints done onsite and placed on sprawling walls in Xintiandi shopping mall as part of a giant collage.

This is part of a global project called Inside Out initiated by French street artist JR after his TED Prize win in 2011. Local volunteers across cities send digital images to the Inside Out team, which arranges for prints to be delivered back to the local sites to be placed in eye-catching spaces.

JR Inside Out Shanghai

Source and photo credit: INSIDE OUT PROJECT photo booth truck project in Shanghai. 

JR came to prominence for his guerilla “pastings” of his large format portraits of individuals on public spaces that highlighted activism issues. Women are Heroes (2008-2010) featured JR’s portraits of woman who suffered from war, sexual assault and crime in Brazil, Liberia, South Sudan and Sierra-Leone. For Face2Face (2007), he pasted large comical portraits of Israelis and Palestinians eight Palestinian and Israeli cities on either side of the Separation Barrier. JR sought to humanize the individual that had been so easily crushed in crisis and war to the rest to the world.

JR Face 2 Face

Source and photo credit: 28 Millimeters, Face2Face. Separation Wall Security Fence Close Up Israeli Side, Abu Dis, Jerusalem, 2007

Inside Out has essentially grown into “the people’s art project”, localizing art while raising global awareness. Nearly 200,000 people from more than 112 countries and territories have participated to deliver social or political messages such as LGBT rights advocacy in Russia, championing equal health care access in UK, AIDs awareness in South Africa and minority rights in Pakistan. The breadth of JR’s initiative has been impressive in reach while being fun and uplifting all at the same time.

JR Inside Out Palestine

Source and photo credit: INSIDE OUT PROJECT, Naplouse, Palestine, 2011

While his photo booth truck project embodies a great element of fun and public interaction, it was really JR’s 2010 project in Shanghai The Wrinkles of the City that struck a chord with me. He had photographed the elderly in Shanghai’s public parks, creating stunning and enlarged portraits that were later pasted by groups of volunteers across sites marked for demolition, including an old housing complex in Zhabei district; the prominent water tower beside Suzhou Creek and the Red Town complex by Huahai Lu.

I suppose it’s quite redundant to conclude that one had to be there to really appreciate the significance of JR’s work in the setting he chose. But his message resonated strongly in the lilongs on Fulu Jie (福禄街) off Yangshupu Lu (杨树蒲路) in Yangpu district when I visited in November 2010.

All photos below are mine unless otherwise stated.

JR Shanghai 2010 02

JR Shanghai 2010 03

JR Shanghai 2010 07

The neighborhood was on its last legs when JR’s team arrived, an ideal state as it meant his work would have been left alone. The lilong became his gallery where JR chose to place his portraits in crowded alley lanes, or tucked against hidden walls in rubbled-strewn rooms or tight corners that would open up when an opposing wall was torn down.

There was little architectural significance to that lilong, no shikumen headers or outstanding motifs, at least not that one could tell. If there was one small thing that would have enhanced the project, it would have been to include something more iconic of Shanghai: the shikumen,which were also being torn down in droves around the area. Nevertheless, The Wrinkles of the City in Shanghai was a visual and revealing interpretation of the loss of memory and the longtang community life that Shanghai’s elderly would remember.

JR Shanghai 2010 04

JR Shanghai 2010 05

JR Shanghai 2010 05

If you would like to see JR’s past works around the world, his Close Up exhibition is at the Magda Danysz Gallery until July 5. The new address is 188 Linqing Road, by Yangshupu Road (North Bund), closed Mondays.

Meanwhile, JR’s Photobooth truck is roaming Shanghai and China until July 12. I hope you catch it!


1 Comment

  • Reply June 14, 2014


    What a wonderful project. What wonderful photos. Thank you for re-visiting (and remembering) it.

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