JR’s monumental tribute to a dying river
The artist draws attention to the exploitation of one of Australia’s longest rivers in a new series of huge portraits
JR has a talent for drawing attention to overlooked groups around the world. In the past, the French artist and activist has highlighted the hard-working women within the Brazilian favelas and the informal settlements of Kenya; he’s put faces to the undocumented immigrants working in the US; and he’s brought attention to the kids in the poorer suburbs on the outskirts of his own city, Paris.
Now, in a new work, he’s ventured far beyond the world’s big cities and made for the outback in a film that focuses on the exploitation of the River Darling (Baaka), Australia’s third-longest river.
For millennia, the Baaka has supported both human and animal life in New South Wales. There are many archaeological remains of discarded oyster shells and fire pits along the river’s edge which date back thousands of years.
However, in recent times, this old waterway has run dry, due in part to climate change, as well as the Government allowing water to be drawn off the Baaka for irrigation. Local farmers, fruit growers and members of the indigenous Barkandji people have all suffered due to the falling water levels. Now, thanks to JR, the wider world will learn of their plights.
The artist’s new film, Homily to Country, captures the unfurling and carrying of a series of 30-metre (98 ft) black-and-white portraits of local fruit growers Rachel Strachan and Alan Whyte, farmer Wayne Smith and Barkandji elder Badger Bates. The huge photographic images are carried around the desolated landscape of Lake Cawndilla, which is fed by the Baaka.
Aerial footage is intercut with an address from Bates, who describes both the river’s ancient history and its modern diminution, in a powerful but simple piece of filmmaking that highlights a little-known group of people and their plight.
You can watch the film here. You can find out more on this important artist by getting a copy of our newly expanded and updated book, JR: Can Art Change the World? If you know some kids who'd like to learn about JR they can do via his introduction to ordinary people around the world, How Old Am I? 1-100 Faces From Around the World. It’s the first-ever children’s visual reference book on age – and a unique celebration of the diversity of humankind across the globe.