In 2011, street artist/photographer JR won the TED prize, $100,00 to use to change the world. He decided "to use art to turn the world inside out," and Inside Out: The People's Art Project documents the results.
The premise is simple: log on to the Inside Out site, upload a portrait of a person that "exudes life," then wait. JR's studio will transform the photo into a poster, which needs to be put up somewhere meaningful, such as the walls of Township Alexandria in Johannesburg or the streets of Lower Manhattan as part of Occupy. Inside Out. More than 100,000 posters have been sent to people in 108 countries since March 2011, the world's largest participatory art project.
The documentary focuses on three areas: a community of teen artists in Haiti struggling to get by, a depressed family in North Dakota mourning a rash of youth suicides, and a group of photographers in Tunisia in the immediate aftermath of the revolution. What they share is a belief in the power of the image to spark conversations and change lives. Even as the movie borders on the hagiographic, it's difficult to refute the rhetoric of "art for the sake of art in the street," as the director Alastair Siddons phrased it during the Q&A. And, really, why would you want to? It's the hardhearted person who won't get inspired while watching a mosaic of photos of ordinary people replace larger-than-life images of a dictator, or hearing the joy of people seeing themselves represented as individuals for the first time.