Leading up to the kick-off of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the world was watching Brazil’s second largest city — and mostly worrying.
Worrying about crime, economic turmoil, inadequate infrastructure, political upheaval, the displacement of longtime residents, marauding alligators, mosquito-borne diseases and off-the-charts polluted water. A veritable carnival of crises!
Now with the games underway and everything running mostly smoothly — save for the disarmingly green swimming pools and a few hiccups here and there — Rio has another situation on its hands: the gargantuan, Godzilla-sized athletes that have taken over the city’s skyline.
A freak case of (forbidden) performance-enhancing drugs gone terribly wrong?
An unexpected result of coming in contact with the bacteria-laden waters of Guanabara Bay?
Nah, no need to be alarmed: urban environment-transforming French street artist — excuse, photograffeur — JR is in town.
Fresh off of a mind-bending installation that made Paris' Musée du Louvre “disappear,” the TED Prize-winning artist has graced Rio with a trio of massive, traffic-stopping installations that, as CNN puts it, depict athletes “turning the city into their own personal playground.”
But there's a twist: Supported by construction scaffolding, the monochromatic installations — “giants,” as JR calls them — are of athletes that aren’t even in Rio. Instead, JR has captured athletes who have been sidelined due to injury or simply did not make the cut. While there’s certainly nothing like actually competing in the Summer Olympics, these three athletes, thanks to JR, have still managed to make a lasting — not to mention truly huge — impression at the 2016 Summer Games.
From the website for JR’s Inside Out project:
Rather than working with star athletes whose success makes them household names, JR is interested in athletes who are little-known in the eyes of the world yet sublimate the physical language of sport and thus form a distillation of the universality of the Olympic movement.
Leaping backwards over a high-rise apartment building on Avenida Rui Barbosa neighborhood is celebrated Sudanese high jumper Ali Mohamed Younes Idris. A national record-holder towering at an already formidable height of 7 feet 5 inches, 27-year-old Idris was injured while training for the 2016 Summer Games in Cologne, Germany. He did not make the qualifying rounds due to his injuries.
"He still came to Rio and jumps over a building in Flamengo,” JR writes on Instagram.
Gliding mid-stroke through Botafogo Bay with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background is decorated French triathlete Leonie Periault.
“[Periault] has won a number of titles in junior categories including the French Junior Championship (2013), as well as finishing runner-up in the World U23 Championships and taking second place in the World Championships in the Women’s Elite category (2016), in which she also hopes to book her ticket to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo," the Inside Out project website says.
Finally, there’s the colossal diver soaring off of a pier in the bustling beachfront neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca. Although the airliner-sized diver’s face is not visible, JR created the installation as a tribute to Cleuson Lima do Rosario, a Brazilian diver — a member of the country’s 2004 Olympic diving team who did not make it to Athens — who currently lives in France and “now only dives for fun.” Like his fellow giants, do Rosario is not among the more than 11,000 athletes competing in Rio.
But, hey, now the entire world knows what the bottom of his feet look like.
Invited to Rio by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as an artist-in-residence, JR spent over a year conceptualizing and installing his ephemeral giants. In addition to massive athletes, JR’s roving Inside Out photobooth truck is also in Rio for the Olympics capturing poster-sized black-and-white portraits of athletes, spectators and Rio residents alike.
The globetrotting artist last made his mark on Rio in 2008 with his “Women Are Heroes” installation which transformed the ramshackle streets and buildings of Moro de Providencia, Rio's oldest and most notorious hillside favela or slum. The aim of that installation was to "pay tribute to those who play an essential role in society but who are the primary victims of war, crime, rape and political or religious fanaticism" by plastering Moro de Providencia with the faces of local women, "suddenly giving a female gaze to both the hill and the favela."