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Paris & London to New York: JR and the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital Hard Hat Tour

Updated: Jun 27, 2022


JR: Chronicles at the Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea, London runs until 3 October 2021. This is the largest art exhibition by French artist JR ever held in London and showcases his most iconic work from the past 15 years. The exhibition features photographs of many of his large-scale outdoor installations, including his work at the Ellis Island Immigration Hospital. The hospital is a collection of derelict medical buildings, closed since 1954, that cared for US immigrants from 1892-1924.


JR's story is an interesting one. He started out as a graffiti artist, targeting subway trains and other precarious places. After finding a camera on the Paris Metro, he began to document his graffiti with photographs. He then enlarged the photographs and collaged them onto outdoor walls, creating large-scale illegal 'sidewalk gallery exhibitions'.

As his artistic reputation has grown, JR has created the largest art gallery in the world. Collaged onto derelict buildings, his work displayed for free, available to those who do not usually go to museums. During these creative endeavours, He often invites the communities where he is working to contribute.

JR has been a Ted Prize recipient and created the Inside Out project. This project allows any project participant to use their image for whichever cause for global change they wish to promote. He has also worked with the New York City Ballet, creating dance work and films contributing to social consciousness.

In 2016, JR disappeared the Louvre in an artistic anamorphosis. That year, he also created gigantic sculptural installations to underline the beauty of the sporting gesture for the Rio Olympics. In 2019, he went back to the Louvre and created another optical illusion using 2000 stripes of paper to cover the pyramid.

His work with the Save Ellis Island project is astonishing. For this project, he enlarged historic photographs of the hospital staff and patients, which he then collaged onto the crumbling walls of the Ellis Island Immigration Hospital. For those with a keen eye; JR superimposed the faces of 19 Syrian refugee onto the original photographs. This installation was created at the height of the Syrian Refugee Crisis in 2014 and will remain until the photos deteriorate.

The result is an ethereal experience that teaches us a lesson about immigration. It reminds of us that these were real people who uprooted themselves in hopes of a better future.


Ellis Island is in Upper New York Harbour and has been part of the Statue of Liberty monument since 1965. Between 1892 and 1924, 12 million immigrants filtered through this island on their way to becoming United States citizens. To medically treat the incoming, the government opened the Ellis Island Hospital. The hospital had two wards; a general hospital and a separate pavilion for contagious disease. For a time, it even had mental health facilities.

The Ellis Island hospital was once one of the largest public health facilities in the country. It closed operations in 1930, and the buildings have remained in a state of neglect. To raise funds for restoration, The Save Ellis Island Fund offers Hard Hat walking tours through the decrepitude. This is a great way to experience the history of immigration in an in-depth and personal way.

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Click for Ellis Island Immigration Hard Hat tour information

For further reading:

Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom by Stephen Wilkes

For more images:


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