Women are Heroes

Women play an essential role in society but, travelling in conflict zones, JR realized that they are often the primary victims of war, crime, sexual assault and political or religious fanaticism. JR’s intention in the Women Are Heroes project was to underline women’s pivotal role in society and to highlight their dignity by photographing them in their daily lives and pasting their photographs in places that would make sense – in their villages, in cities nearby, or on the other side of the world. JR asked the women if they wanted to make a face.

Some preferred to pose silently in front of the camera, allowing everything they had been through to be read in their eyes. Others agreed and within seconds switched from a face of mourning to loud, uncontrollable laughter. Working in the Morro da Providência favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, JR pasted huge photos of the faces and eyes of local women on buildings covering the favela’s mountainside. In Kenya, he put the eyes and faces of women from the slums of Kibera on their rooftops, using water-resistant material that provided the additional benefit of protection from the rain. He also pasted eyes on a working train. In India, he pasted huge, seemingly blank white posters to the walls. The images were hidden in a sticky material that gathered dust and colour pigments during Holi festival of colours, revealing the portraits. In Cambodia, JR worked with women who faced eviction due to encroaching gentrification, and were fighting for their right to remain in their homes. In war-torn Sierra Leone, Liberia and Sudan, JR’s pastings brought a haunting human presence to harsh environments of social conflict. At the end of each project, a book was made and distributed to the participants. In 2010, a film about the project was part of the Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival. The participants often asked JR to make their stories travel – as a way of voicing what they had gone through and what they had resisted, and of telling the world that they existed. They knew that the visual language of pulling faces was something universal that would be understood in Europe or the United States as much as in their own village. Women Are Heroes ended in July 2014, when 2,600 strips of paper were pasted in 10 days on a container ship in Le Havre, France, with the help of dockers at the port. The ship then travelled across the globe to Malaysia.