Home Magazine Public art by Alfredo Jaar

Strongly interested in the daily news and fascinated by what happens around the world, Alfredo Jaar's artistic practice has always been driven by intentions of political and social criticism. Never conditioned by merely aesthetic nor market needs, his committed art aims at highlighting injustices and at leading the audience to reflect on social disparities. 

Related articles: Public art by Alberto Garutti - Public art by James Turrell

Born in Chile in 1956, Jaar experienced Pinochet's Coup d’état and, before leaving the country and going to New York where he become an architect, he tried to respond to the regime promoting a conceptual and critical art. His architectural background influenced all his artistic processes which are indeed characterized by an attentive study of the preexisting social contexts and historical substratum. 

The continuous reflection on the role of art in the society, the focus on artists’ commitment to generate changes in one’s consciousness, and the power of language have always been central themes in Jaar’s work. To develop these concepts, he expresses himself via conceptual art, video installations and photography. 

Every corner of the world has its forgotten injustices and its violent dynamics which are mostly ignored or hidden, and his responsibility as an artist is to publicly display these veiled situations. 


Alfredo Jaar, Let There Be Light, from The Rwanda project, 1994-1998.


One of his most famous projects is the work on the genocide occurred in Rwanda. In 1994, in the face of what he described as "the criminal, barbaric indifference of the so-called world community", Jaar travelled to Rwanda to witness the horrific aftermath of one of history's most violent conflicts. Three months prior, an estimated one million Rwandans had been systematically killed during one hundred days of civil unrest. The artist dedicated six years to this project in which he seeks to bring attention to personal stories to pay tribute to the victims of the genocide.

"I was blocked, because I realized I had documented the genocide and that nobody cared. No one was interested in these images. And so, I had to invent new ways of representing the genocide, and each one became an exercise in how to represent the unrepresentable. [] Thus, for this work, the strategy was to reduce the scale of the tragedy. Basically, when we say, "one million dead," it's meaningless. So, the strategy was to reduce the scale to a single human being with a name, a story. That helps the audience to identify with that person. And this process of identification is fundamental to create empathy, solidarity, and intellectual involvement"

Split between cultural institutions, academies and public works, Jaar's artistic practice can be summarized in “Art is 99% thinking and 1% doing”. To him, art is a way of understanding the world. "When I have to do a job, whether it's in Rwanda or Australia, as a first step I go there, to study and get informed, I have to understand". Each work is generated and inspired by from the reality surrounding him. He calls himself an architect who makes art, not a studio artist, none of his work derive from his imagination. "That's why I say that all art is always political: a vision of the world cannot be neutral".


Alfredo Jaar, Rwanda, Rwanda, 1994, Public intervention, Malmö, Sweden


Art changes the world, one person at a time: those who are touched by an art piece progressively change their mindset, because they were introduced to a new way of thinking. Culture creates models that spread slowly. Artists sow, and the plant gradually grows.


"There is no fiction better than the reality surrounding us. So, I analyze the news.
I'm interested in the way different media convey world

- Alfredo Jaar -


Cover image:  I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On … Alfredo Jaar with his Beckett-inspired installation at Edinburgh art festival: Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian.

Written by Giulia Cami


Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

Kooness Recommends