An inspiring TED talk by French street artist JR about the power of guerilla art keeps us ever present to our social responsibility as designers.
When you read about the Israeli-Palestine conflict flaring up again in 2008, what did you do? You, like us, were probably tuned into your media of choice, wondering if peace will ever be possible in the Middle East.
Across the ocean, in Paris, a semi-obscure street artist known simply as “JR” wondered the same thing. Except, he and a friend decided to actually go to Gaza, camera in hand and see if Israelis and Palestinians are really that different from each other.
Project Face-to-Face was born.
JR and his friend engaged with the community at the human one-to-one level. They took photographs of an Israeli and a Palestinian who each did the same job: taxi driver, school teacher, etc. Then they blew the images up into posters “as large as a house” and pasted them up on walls, sides of buildings and even military posts. Always in pairs. One Palestinian face, one Israeli face. Same job.
Can you tell who is who?
That’s the question JR asked over and over as people came to look at his portraits.
Four years later, the portraits remain untouched, inviting us to look closer at our commonality rather than our differences. Illustrating that coexisting peacefully side by side is in the realm of the possible.
We often talk about the importance of storytelling in design, but this takes that thought one step further. Can the stories we tell as commercial designers help change the world and make it a better place? And what about money? If we design for commercial clients, does our artwork still count as “art”? Can it still be a tool for social change?
We believe the answer to that question is “YES!”. Rising social consciousness, consumer involvement, the call for accountability… is changing the game for the commercial design world and for the companies we represent. Good design can do good.
As JR comments, good art, contains layers. It’s a gift that sparks other gifts. Conversations lead to insight, which lead to more conversations. And sometimes, when we’re lucky, a change crystallizes. Like those photographs appearing magically on the white walls in India (15mins 49 seconds into the TED talk).
And maybe, just maybe, the world becomes a better place...