JR has a history of using his art to tell stories and show viewers places they are unlikely to visit. With the installations of his Women Are Heroes project in Kenya and Brazil, he produced work that was meant to be seen through documentation by an audience outside of those countriesthrough documentation. I assume one of his motivations in wheatpasting the famous favela on a hill in Rio was to capture this photo and share it with the world. JR has used the appeal of his art to share stories that are worth hearing about the difficult conditions under which people around the world live. By making something beautiful, he’s raising awareness.
Most of his audience isn’t visiting the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, but JR can still share stories of that place. In Kenya, JR wheatpasted the roofs of homes in Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world and documented the whole installation from a bird’s-eye view. The work was made of vinyl, so it stopped leaks in the roofs. JR could have accomplished the same thing by giving people tarps. Instead, he turned home repair into an art project and documented it from that stunning angle. He both improved the homes raised awareness of a humanitarian crisis through the powerful images that came out of the improvements. JR also wheatpasted a train that runs through Kibera. While people could see that piece from the ground, the effort still focused on capturing documentation to share with people outside of Kibera.