In 2004, in search of places where no-one would expect to see art, JR held his first exhibition on the walls of Les Bosquets, the ‘ghetto’ of Montfermeil, a suburb of Paris. He photographed its young inhabitants and pasted enlarged photocopies to the walls. In November 2005, in the very same place, in a climate of social discontent triggered by the deaths of two teenage boys who were hiding from police in an electricity substation, riots broke out and quickly spread through the city. More than 10,000 cars were burnt by inhabitants of the suburbs in one month alone. Rather than only disrupting other neighbourhoods of Paris, the rioters also destroyed their own environment, breaking the only toys left in their backyard.
Across France, people watched frightening images of the events on television. The media portrayed out-of- control kids throwing Molotov cocktails, attacking cops and firemen and looting anything they could. Political leaders from all sides – who had failed to make things any better – were on air every day, juggling buzzwords: prevention, repression, integration, immigration, youth, assimilation, education, citizenship, respect, language, generation, soccer.