A couple months ago a French photographer and street artist who goes by JR gained a good deal of attention for his latest installation in Kibera, one of the world’s largest slums (population 1 million), located on the outskirts of Nairobi in Kenya. His work was featured in Juxtapoz, Utne Reader, Wooster Collective, and on hundreds of blogs, including that of Mexico City-based journalist Alexis Okeowo. It was on her blog where I left the following comment:
I had seen other pictures of the Women Heroes project in Kibera, but had never seen those pics from Rio. Impressive stuff. I just wish that more of this art came from the communities rather than outside them. Or that the artists who are from Kibera and the favelas in Rio got more attention from the new and old media.
There is no question about JR’s talent as a photographer, or in his ability to place the right image in the right public place. Just take a look at this staircase in Rio de Janeiro:
Furthermore, there is no question that his intentions are right: he is a talented artist advocating for increased visibility of women in places where they are often overlooked. But I do wonder if JR has earned the trust and approval of those working class communities he chooses to decorate. Who decides if he can hang gigantic versions of his photography in New Delhi, Kibera, Phnom Penh, and the favelas of Rio? How do I know if (most) members of the local community are happy or angry about having these gigantic photographs plastered on their walls and rooftops?
So I was happy to hear from the AjA Project that their longstanding series of photography workshops called Disparando Cámaras Para La Paz (“Shooting Cameras for Peace”) has begun their own JR-like exhibit by printing large versions of the photographs taken by young students from the community and displaying them on houses around Barrio El Progreso, located in Soacha just outside of Bogotá.
Granted, “Shooting Cameras for Peace” was started by Alex Fattal, an American Fulbright Scholar who is now pursuing a Ph.D. in socio-cultural anthropology at Harvard University, but as you can see in the video below, the project has been sustained by locals from the community.
Alex would have never found his way to Barrio El Progreso were it not for Nelson Párajo, a 45-year-old unintentional headmaster who grew up in a poor community near Baranquilla. Párajo moved to the community in 1997, built a ranch, and then constructed an informal schoolhouse to provide education to young children from poor families.
(Mothers from the exorbitantly expensive private high school “Colegio Gran Bretaña” in Bogotá recently raised money to provide Párajo’s school with computers. Seems like an ideal location for a Rising Voices project to me.)
The first exhibition of the photography of the young people from Barrio El Progreso outside of Bogotá was at Centro Colombo Americano in Medellín. (On the 8th floor is an amazing restaurant; my favorite place to grab menu del día in the city. Also the site where Monsieur Mansour insisted on enjoying his meal with the entire table.) Just 10 or so kilometers north of Centro Colombo Americano is the hillside working class neighborhood of San Javier La Loma where 10 or so young library users make up the citizen media project ConVerGentes. There is a great post about the history and future of the project by Catalina Restrepo on their group blog. Stralunato has also written a wonderful post about the project.
Here are two videos about the culture of hip-hop in San Javier La Loma created by Henry Barros, one of the newest members of ConVerGentes.