This athlete—a refugee—did not make it to the Olympics. Despite the avian grace of his dive into the sea. Despite the grandeur of his current presence as public art. The newest iteration of JR’s Inside Out Project—a global initiative to raise the visibility of otherwise overlooked persons—the Rio installations present portraits of athletes otherwise shadowed by their refugee status. Technical triumphs, each piece is a stretched print on fabric strung up on scaffolding (“My first flying piece,” JR announced on Instagram). As the Olympics welcome the first refugee team, JR’s art suggests more should be done to celebrate heroes who are as yet unsung.
In the case of this athlete, his physical feat is all the more awesome when set 25 stories high. Earlier this week, JR introduced his vaulting subject as Mohamed Younes Idriss, a 27-year-old athlete from Sudan who lives and trains in Cologne, Germany. On Friday, JR contextualized Mohamed’s larger-than-life presence at the Games in spite of his inability to qualify for the new refugee team.
80 years ago the Olympics happened in Berlin. Hitler wanted to use them to demonstrate the supremacy of the Aryan race. Today they will open in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a “mixed race” country (“país mestiço”). Even though Brazil is going through political and economic turmoil and the necessity of the Games at this moment can spark controversy, the Olympic spirit will joyfully be welcomed by the people tonight. This is Mohamed, a Sudanese athlete who couldn’t make it to the Games because of an injury. He still came to Rio and jumps over a building in Flamengo.