BISMARCK–As I made repeated loops around the streets of Fort Yates last week to write about their flooding issues, it was hard not to notice the huge pictures staring at me wherever I went.
Plastered on the side of buildings and other surfaces were people making silly faces–and staring back at them were people on the streets smiling.
I had to know what exactly this was all about and was fortunate to find a group of people in the process of putting another large image up. When I found the project involved people from across the world, I was amazed such a project found its way to rural North Dakota and had to share it with you.
In case you missed it, here are the story and photos.
FORT YATES, N.D. â€“ A French artist and British filmmaker are helping to transform this rural community into an outdoor art gallery and are planning to share it with the world.
Throughout this townÂ on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, large photos of local residents and historical figures such as Sitting Bull are plastered on outdoor walls and surfaces.
Known as the Inside Out Project, the goal is to transform messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work, according to insideoutproject.net. People around the world are taking part in the project to share a message about their city.
The man behind the movement is known simply as JR, a Paris native who recently won the TED prize. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and provides a cash prize to â€œan exceptional individualâ€ with one wish to change the world.
â€œHis wish is basically to create a global participatory art project that would turn the world inside out,â€ said Alastair Siddons, a British director filming some of the Inside Out efforts around the world.
There are photo projects in Tunisia about democracy, in Portugal about slum housing and in the Bronx about violence, he said.
Standing outside the project in Fort Yates, JR said for the past 10 years heâ€™s been taking photos and pasting them in places around the world where art doesnâ€™t normally exist. Popular enough to have his own Wikipedia page (JR artist), his work is described as combining â€œart and action and deals with commitment, freedom, identity and limits.â€
His personal website, www.jr-art.net, describes him as exhibiting â€œfreely in the streets of the world, catching the attention of people who are not the museum visitors.â€
JR said heâ€™s now taking street art to the next level and having people take their own pictures. He then prints them for a suggested $20 fee and mails the posters back to hang in their communities.
He doesnâ€™t always go to the places participating in the project, but decided he wanted to personally see Fort Yates and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
People donâ€™t always know the real story of Native Americans, and the pictures put a face on the community, he said.
A mutual friend connected JR with DJ Two Bears of Cannon Ball. Two Bears said the goal of Inside Out in Fort Yates is to highlight older and younger Standing Rock people from the past and the present.
â€œItâ€™s like turning it inside out again and letting the people know out there in the community and out there in the world that weâ€™re still here. Weâ€™re still alive,â€ Two Bears said.
â€œA lot of the time, weâ€™ll go unseen because of the misconceptions in the media about Native Americans and who we are. A lot of people donâ€™t know our real story and who we really are.â€
And that message will go beyond Fort Yates. Images of the artwork are already spreading on social networking sites, Two Bears said.
Siddons is making a film and a web series about Inside Out. His first web episode about Tunisia will come out next month. He expects the Fort Yates episode to be finished later this summer.
Photos from the Fort Yates project could also appear in other places around the world.
The project is especially symbolic now as the community fights flooding, Two Bears said.
â€œThe artwork represents that weâ€™re still here. Weâ€™re always going to be here. All the struggles, the hard times that we go through in our community, on the system, that people are always going to survive,â€ he said.
A lot of people have said the photos have made them smile, laugh and feel engaged as a community again, he said.
One of the buildings chosen for the artwork was once used to imprison Native Americans, he said. There are several buildings with large posters, while smaller posters are scattered around town.
Depending on the effects of the sun and rain, Two Bears expects the pictures to last up to a year.
Tourism Director LaDonna Allard said theyâ€™re lucky North Dakota has an opportunity to be part of the project.
â€œI heard JR speak in his video. He said, â€˜I canâ€™t change the world,â€™ but he changed ours,â€ she said. â€œTheyâ€™re not just pictures pasted. Theyâ€™re what all of us represent.â€
For more information on the project and how to get involved, visit insideoutproject.net.