JR Tehachapi Prison Art Installation California

Human connections are at the heart of JR's multidisciplinary work. Through massive photography exhibitions, he seeks to transform the places embedded in collective memory, overlaying images of everyday people with historical sites such as the Pyramids of Giza and Milano Centrale to form new dialogues and inspire social change. Over the years, the French artist has also created moving documentaries, most recently with Robert de Niro, which explores the story of the actor's late father, as well as a film about Tehachapi, one of California's most dangerous maximum security prisons.

The latter film premiered last year at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado and follows 48 inmates serving life sentences without parole. The film was shot in 2019. JR sat down with each inmate to hear their story and bring a humanistic element back to those in the prison system who have had their civility stripped away. Each person was free to express themselves as they saw fit while JR photographed them from above and placed their image on 338 strips of paper, which he, along with prison guards, wheat-taped to the prison yard floor.

“The incarcerated men I met there left a deep impression on me and I wondered how I could build a bridge between them and the outside world,” JR wrote on Instagram. “This film is a way to share their resilience and their path to redemption. It is a manifesto of the power of art as a unifying force of hope.” Tehachapi (2021) will be released in French cinemas on June 12th.

Anna Harden

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