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Strong women in the spotlight

Strong women in the spotlight

Photographer:Fotograaf: JR

When art meets science

Who: Jessica Alleva, psychologist

Photographs: Women are Heroes, by photographer JR

Target group: psychology students

French photographer JR believes that art belongs to the people, to the street. Therefore his photographs are not hanging in museums, but on public walls and buildings, where he has posted them himself. “If people pull them down again, then that is okay with him. It is theirs, they can do with them as they please,” says psychologist Jessica Alleva.

The photographs that were part of the Women are Heroes project also ended up on the streets. “The project started as an act of revenge: three young boys were murdered by a drugs gang in the Rio de Janeiro favelas. JR visited the mother and grandmother of the children and made portraits of them. He hung them up in their neighbourhood. People started to ask questions about them, they wanted to know the story behind the photographs.”

After that the photographer decided to dedicate a series of photographs to women living in conflict areas all over the world. “According to him, women form the basis of their societies. Power often lies with men but women are the ones who persist, continually rebuilding their lives. Even if they have lost husbands, fathers and sons to the struggle or even if they experienced violence themselves.”

JR wrote a book and made a DVD of the project (both called Women are Heroes). “I saw the film for the first time a few years ago, while I was alone in the cinema. I was so impressed that since then I recommend it to everyone. You also see how local men react to the fact that women are in the spotlight for once. They don’t like it. Why are you not taking photographs of us, they asked JR? We are more important than women, aren’t we?”

Alleva thinks that this is interesting for social psychologists. “It says a lot about stereotypes and male-female relationships. What happens when you break through that? How do people think about themselves and others?” At the beginning of the book, there are interviews with all the women who were photographed. “The stories relate of violence and war, but most of the stories are about the people behind the war, who experience it on a daily basis. I try to read a few every day. It is not a book that you read without stopping; the stories are too intense for that. They are about rape, extreme violence. Still, the women are so strong, so powerful.”

Alleva’s favourite is an eight-year old girl from Brazil. “Her father was murdered by a gang, she lives with her family in one room, sleeps on a mattress on the floor. Despite everything she is grateful for what she has and is filled with hope. She wants to become a doctor and is very inquisitive and funny and wise.”

In this column lecturers recommend art that throws a different light on their field than textbooks do

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