Chroniques de Clichy-Montfermeil
The Chronicles of Clichy Montfermeil
In collaboration with the filmmaker Ladj Ly, JR has been working on projects in Clichy-Montfermeil (Seine-Saint-Denis), east of Paris, for the past 15 years. In 2004, he created Portrait of a Generation, a series of portraits of local young people, making large-format, black-and-white collages that he pasted illegally on the walls around the district. On October 27 2005, the deaths of two teenagers, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, who hid in an electricity transformer in Clichy-sous-Bois while fleeing from the police, triggered violent riots there and throughout France. JR returned to the heart of the neighbourhood and photographed there, using a 28millimeter lens that permitted him to get as close as possible to his subjects and deformed their faces “just as the media distorts our vision of the suburbs,” JR explains. A selection of these images would be pasted on the outer walls of the MEP in 2006.
In 2017, JR continued his collaboration with Ladj Ly in Clichy-Montfermeil. The two artists invited over 750 people to participate, ranging from the kids who started the 2005 riots – which triggered one of the largest social upheavals in French history – to the district’s mayor, firemen and city workers. The variety of people in the piece conveyed the diversity of the community and the inhabitants’ daily struggles, which included social revolts, unemployment and changes in the urban landscape. The mural also recalled JR’s long-standing engagement with the community: the mayor himself had sued JR when he first used images of locals as part of the Portrait of a Generation series, and now agreed to pose for a photograph that was placed at the centre of the piece. JR thus created a singular portrait of its residents “who have seen the neighbourhood’s utopian dreams fall apart, poverty and social tensions that keep increasing… a portrait of those who are trying to put some poetry back into the concrete,” says JR. The mural was first exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art museum in Paris, as well as in Clichy-Montfermeil itself, as instructed by the French President at the time, François Hollande.