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Street artist's wish to change the world

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Street artist JR keeps his identity secret as he travels the world
  • He has done projects in China, Brazil, Israel and Africa
  • He posts giant, close-up portraits of faces to change perceptions
  • In Israel, he contrasted Israelis and Palestinians who have the same professions

Editor's note: TED is a nonprofit organization dedicated to "Ideas worth spreading," which it distributes on its website.

(CNN) -- The anonymous -- and mysterious -- street artist JR has had an impact in many places around the world, even though he's still in his 20s.

He's posted his enormous close-up portraits of faces in Shanghai, in Africa, in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and even on the wall separating Israeli and Palestinian populations.

In March, he was recognized with the TED Prize, an honor that entitled him to $100,000 and the granting of a wish. The 28-year-old, who began his work as a teenage graffiti artist in Paris, told those attending TED2011 in Long Beach, California, "I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project."

Watch JR's TED Prize talk

He unveiled a website (http://www.insideoutproject.net/) to which people can submit portraits they would like to see printed as giant posters suitable for display in their home cities.

JR has masterminded art projects around the world, pasting up posters on the street to change perceptions of the world. In "Face 2 Face," a project in the Middle East, his team posed Israelis and Palestinians who have the same occupations -- among them, lawyers, teachers, cabdrivers -- and got them to make faces.

The posters have been displayed on both sides of the wall. He says most people couldn't tell which were Israeli and which were Palestinian.

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JR conceals his real identity and in his talk at the TED Conference, he wore a hat and sunglasses.

He answered questions this week from CNN via e-mail.

JR: Use art to turn the world inside out
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CNN: What are you hoping to achieve with your TED Prize wish?

JR: I want to create the largest ever participatory art project and highlight the concept of Shadow Philanthropy, where people help others create work without taking credit for it -- through this we can really change the world.

CNN: What's happened since you made the wish?

JR: Thousands of people have stood up to participate -- some have pasted and others are preparing to paste! Some have pasted in their own windows and some have pasted on walls in their hometowns, everywhere in the world. For instance, hundreds of people covered the face of the dictator in Tunisia with their own portraits.

It doesn't matter if the photo is the best quality ever -- what matters is the statement you make and what your photo means in the place you paste it.

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CNN: How many posters have been created?

JR: Over 15,000 posters have been created, which includes photos made in the giant photo booth at the Pompidou in Paris.

This project is the mirror of society, and what you see is what happens when you give the image back, in large format, to anyone who wishes to express themselves independently -- with no brand or institution behind the image. Usually this sort of pasting is used in politics or for advertising, so we're changing this form of communication.

CNN: How will you know whether your TED Prize wish has been achieved?

JR: The beauty of an art project is that you cannot always measure the impact, but one day it can become clear.

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