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Essex Street Mural Part of Global, Participatory Project

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You’ve probably noticed the new wheat-paste mural adorning the facade of 133 Essex Street, formerly the home of the rowdy (and defunct) bar, Mason Dixon. It’s the work of the semi-anonymous street artist JR, who’s the recipient of the prestigious 2011 TED Prize.

The image is part of Inside Out, JR’s ambitious international project meant to “transform messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work.” In the past few days, JR uploaded a trailer to YouTube explaining what Inside Out is all about:


The TED Prize is presented to an individual who receives a $100,000 award and “one wish to change the world.”  At the annual TED Conference in California, JR, the mysterious French artist, who’s just 28 years old, said, “I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project and together we’ll turn the world Inside Out.”

Past recipients of the prize include Bill Clinton, biologist E.O. Wilson and Bono. As the New York Times noted in a story published last year: “(JR has) made a name for himself by plastering colossal photographs in downtrodden neighborhoods around the world. The images usually extol local residents, to whom he has become a Robin Hood-like hero.” More about the participatory project on the Inside Out web site:

Everyone is challenged to use black and white photographic portraits to discover, reveal and share the untold stories and images of people around the world. These digitally uploaded images will be made into posters and sent back to the project’s co-creators for them to exhibit in their own communities. People can participate as an individual or in a group; posters can be placed anywhere, from a solitary image in an office window to a wall of portraits on an abandoned building or a full stadium. These exhibitions will be documented, archived and viewable virtually.

If you look around the neighborhood (ie: the Houston Street wall), you’ll notice “Inside Out” making its mark in lots of different contexts.

Image via Inside Out web site.

This image, pasted on a section of the Williamsburg Bridge, is one of 8,000 projects catalogued on the Inside Out site. A statement from its creator, Francois D,  reads:

Mario – age unknown – Mexican – who arrived in the USA 3 years ago. Alone. He sells flowers at our local deli on the Lower East Side. He like 1 (2?3?) million others from Ecuador, Bolivia, El Salvador, etc. are practically invisible in this bustling city full of life where time is money and money is not smiles. But take him out, take her out of New York city and it will stop. Believe me. Without them, like their Pakistani, Indian, Lebanese, Nepali, Cuban friends nothing would work. So let’s start to SEE them? As the human beings that they are. Not like working ants or bees that can be taken for granted whilst we suck our honey. Merciiiii JR! We will post up Mario all over the apple and throughout our travels around the world! Super boulot!!!

If you would like to participate in the project,  Inside Out’s web site makes it very easy. Check it out here.

Photo by Brent Smith.

What about the Essex Street mural? Lower East Side resident Matt Levine, who’s taking over the Mason Dixon space, was intrigued by JR’s project and sought him out. Here’s the information Inside Out provided about the poster:

The image is of a young Lakota Native American Man from The Standing Rock Nation in North Dakota. The photo was taken on the annual “Chiefs Ride” which is organized by the elders to connect the youth in the community to their history and commemorate their history. Overall we went to Standing Rock to help tell the story of Native Americans as we all feel we know but their is so much we don’t know and can learn. They have serious hardships from drug and alcohol abuse to suicide yet they are still a proud people rich in culture and tradition. There is more to learn than we think. The theme of this trip was Always Here now we reappear. The third episode of the project will be focused on that community.

The new Essex Street facade, no doubt, makes a different statement than the mechanical bull that used to be the main attraction at the controversial bar (the bull was carted away several weeks ago by a guy from Texas).  The new restaurant, featuring an expanded kitchen and a smaller bar, opens in September.

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