The Vivo à Beira boat, with JR's work on its sail, on July 24 (photo courtesy JR)

The Vivo à Beira boat, with JR’s work on its sail, on July 24 (photo courtesy JR)

A work by the street artist and photographer JR will sail across the Atlantic Ocean this fall. The work, a black-and-white closeup of a woman’s eye from his 2008 series Women Are Heroes, will serve as the sail of the Karakoram, a 60-foot yacht that will be manned by skipper Yoann Richomme and financier Pierre Lacaze as they navigate from France to Brazil in the Transat Jacques Vabre, a biennial boat race along the old trans-Atlantic coffee trading route (Jacques Vabre is a French coffee company). The race, which begins in early November, typically takes 10 to 15 days to complete.

Lacaze, the New York-based commodities trader who is sponsoring the boat, opted for an artwork on his ship’s sail rather than the corporate backers whose logos are typically featured. The ship’s journey, dubbed Vivo à Beira (or “living on the edge,” after a line from a poem by the Brazilian author Clarice Lispector), is a fundraising initiative for the BrazilFoundation, a nonprofit that supports humanitarian work in Brazil. Given that JR’s Women Are Heroes project focused on women living in the Moro de Providencia favela of Rio de Janeiro — and that the artist’s own cultural community center, Casa Amarela, continues to do work there — choosing an image from that series made a great deal of sense, a spokesperson for the artist told Hyperallergic.

“In my project Women Are Heroes I had made the promise to the women I met that I would make their stories travel — this is the eye from a woman who participated in the project,” the artist wrote on Instagram. “Thank you to Pierre Lacaze and Yoann Richomme for inviting me to be part of this adventure and for choosing art instead of [corporate] branding.”

This is not the first time a boat emblazoned with a work by the French artist has done humanitarian work on the high seas. In 2014, a supertanker transporting shipping containers decorated with one of JR’s images rescued 213 refugees who’d been drifting in the Mediterranean sea.

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...