JR + Takao Shiraishi in Fukushima

A site-specific collaboration keeps the world emotionally connected to the post-disaster area


by Marie Salom Peyronnel

In addition to winning the 2011 TED Prize, JR‘s acclaim has grown after showings at Galerie Perrotin, the Tate Modern and the Venice Biennale. Outside of traditional bounds of the art world, the artist has made an equivocal impact in the favelas of Rio, in Ellis Island’s abandoned hospital and on the Separation Wall in Israel. Four years after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and nuclear disaster occurred in Fukushima, Japan on 11 March 2011, killing more than 15,000 people, the 32-year-old French artist’s new pasting project raises awareness for this desolated area through an ephemeral installation.


After exploring the disaster area in November 2012, the artist left an Inside Out photo booth truck to a group of Japanese artists, including Takao Shiraishi, so that they could continue to paste hundreds of faces of inhabitants in towns around the irradiated zone. “I love Takaos incredible energy,” JR shares with CH. “I have rarely met such a dedicated artist. His whole life is dedicated to the making of art.” After collaborations on other projects in New York and Paris, both set out to join forces once again in Fukushima this month.


On sprawling wooden structures that Shiraishi built just a few days ago near the sea close to Fukushima, the two friends and a team of local volunteers pasted enormous pictures of the eyes of 12 locals. “We have chosen the eyes from my imagery because we thought it would connect with Takao’s wood-wave architecture in the best way possible. But most importantly, its a symbolic representation of the hundreds of people who have given their life or their health to save others and limit the damage,” JR continues. Two years ago the artists were working on the communities that are still living in the region, but this 2015 project takes a different tact. “This time we wanted to focus on the people who have worked inside the nuclear plant and tried to clean the mess that was left there by the company,” he notes.

Different stories are embodied within these large scale black-and-white looks. One features a man that was born in Fukushima, another centers on a man who was at the plant the day of the tsunami; one shows an Englishman who lived in the Fukushima region for years and wishes he could move back to help. The pure magic of this installation lies in the fact that behind these wood and paper pieces, one can feel real encounters and experiences. Shiraishi says he met strong people that inspired him and the work conveys this.”I believe in people’s power when something happens beyond our imagination,” Shiraishi says.

JR and Shiraishi’s Fukushima exhibition only stood for two days. Ephemeral by intention, the impact of the work and commitment to memory is sure to endure. Explore JR’s portfolio for more information on his projects around the world.

Images courtesy of the JR Foundation