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JR's mobile art project seeks to get out the vote in the US

Michael Mathes, AFP | Taylor Hill, 26, poses alongside a large portrait of herself, part of French artist JR's "Inside Out Project", on Saturday September 15, 2018, in Dallas, Texas.

The truck, specially made to look like a classic camera, rolled up in the morning and started churning out poster-sized portraits of smiling Texans.


By nightfall dozens of the black-and-white images had been pasted onto a Dallas building faces of America's young voters participating in French artist JR's latest effort to promote civic engagement.

His simple but enchanting Inside Out Project register to vote, pose for a personal portrait, talk it out with neighbors--is helping Americans see art through a new lens in extraordinary times, and to engage politically ahead of November's all-important midterm elections.

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"It's promoting voter registration and making it easily accessible to my generation," Dallas teacher Taylor Hill, 26, told AFP Saturday as she waited for her portrait to unspool from a slit in the truck.

"And we like taking pictures of ourselves, so it's a way to combine the two."

Hill, who recently dyed her blonde hair purple, acknowledged it was "kind of a stupid move" for her and friends to sit out the 2016 election.

So when they reached the Inside Out truck, Hill filled out a voter registration form, handed it to local activism group Jolt Texas, then entered the photo booth to snap a playful portrait that wound up on the building.

'Change the world'

More than 300,000 people worldwide have participated in Inside Out since its founding in 2011, when JR proclaimed his desire to "change the world" through art.

The project has embraced themes such as domestic violence, justice and immigration, bearing witness to individuals often ignored in overheated rhetoric.

The photo trucks are on a 20-city US tour, including stops in Florida, Texas and California, promoting the power of the ballot box.

The project is non-partisan, meant to re-imagine day-to-day discussions of the traditional town square, explained Gabe Rodriguez, who works with sponsor Emerson Collective and oversaw the Dallas event.

With political tensions swirling 20 months into Donald Trump's presidency, Rodriguez sounds relieved that there have been no angry clashes at the photo truck, just positivity.

"The more spaces we can create where people have a chance to focus on something beautiful, the more successful or meaningful for their community and the more productive the dialogue can be," he said.

Hispanic-American Jessica Martinez, 39, worried that Trump's aggressive rhetoric has "hindered" public discourse, but said Inside Out might help change that.

"I'm hoping it will inspire Latinas to come out and really speak their voice," she said, as her teen daughters posed for portraits.

JR has addressed US politics before. In 2017 he hoisted a huge photograph of a smiling toddler in northern Mexico who appears to be peering over the border wall into California.


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