Parrish Art Museum mural shows refugee children playing

The Parrish Art Museum presents Les Enfants d’Ouranos by French artist JR—a 200-ft photographic montage of 40 children playfully running in refugee camps, removed from their original context, and transported into an idealized world. The project is based on photographs taken by the artist in camps in Rwanda, Ukraine, Mauritania, Greece, and Colombia for his Déplacé.e series.

Through his work, JR instills images of children directly impacted by global conflict with innocence, transcendence, and possibility. Les Enfants d’Ouranos, which opened Memorial Day weekend, is installed across a wide expanse of the Museum’s south façade, visible from the Montauk Highway. JR’s site specific building intervention, coinciding with the Museum’s 125th anniversary, follows three previous façade installations by Hank Willis Thomas, Martin Creed, and Clifford Ross. The artist will give a talk at the Museum on Friday, June 9, 6pm.

The mural is augmented by Les Enfants d’OuranosBois #6—a large-scale work by JR from his 2022 series—on view in the Museum’s interior lobby gallery from May 29 through October 22, 2023. In that series, JR transferred negatives of the photograph onto reclaimed wood painted in black ink to create a more dramatic contrast.

“I am delighted that the Parrish’s iconic façade will be the architectural framework for JR’s tremendous mural that brings to light members of invisible communities—such as these displaced children— recontextualized as individuals with great potential to create a new world,” Parrish Executive Director Mónica Ramírez-Montagut, said. “I have always admired JR for the visual power of his work and his commitment to social justice, equity of representation, and accessibility. I find his projects to be among the most poignant and relevant in our times.”

The title Les Enfants d’Ouranos, or “The Children of Ouranos,” references the Greek god of the sky who was the father of the Titans—gods who were once children themselves. By association, JR infers that the displaced children in this series likewise embody divinity and unlimited potential for transformation despite their difficult living conditions.

In a departure from recent practices, the artist printed the photographs as negatives directly onto reinforced fabric. By reversing the image, JR inverts established hierarchies: Shadows are filled with light, the subjects are illuminated and radiant, and the figures take on an otherworldly aura. The artist literally shifts them into another dimension with an imposing presence that commands attention.

By affixing the images to the building’s façade, the children are placed in an idealized playing field with the Museum’s vast bucolic meadow at their feet.

JR’s Les Enfants d’Ouranos project is a continuation of the artist’s practice in Déplacé.e. For that series, JR photographed children from the refugee camps named above, and transferred their images onto banners measuring over 100 feet. The banners were carried by hundreds of volunteers around refugee camps or cities worldwide. Their massive scale and larger-than-life format provided a commemorative moment, serving as a temporary monument to these overlooked human beings.

JR works at the intersection of photography, public art, filmmaking, and social engagement. Over the last two decades, he has developed multiple public projects and numerous site-specific interventions in cities all over the world: from buildings in the slums around Paris, to the walls in the Middle East and Africa or the favelas of Brazil.

RELATED PROGRAM

On Friday, June 9 at 6pm, artist JR will give a talk at the Parrish Art Museum on his work Les Enfants d’Ouranos, including the impetus for Déplacé.e.s, details of his experiences at the camps, and experiences in collaborating with a variety of communities to create art together. Following the talk,

JR will be available for a book signing of his most recent catalogue raisonné, “Artist Until I find a Real Job.” Registration required.

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