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Walk through a 6-acre portrait combining Washington’s many faces

Using dozens of images of young men photographed in Washington, D.C., artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada has created a physical “facescape” from that composite portrait. “Out of Many, One” is on display on the National Mall until the end of October, with a “walk-through” experience for visitors.

Rodriguez-Gerada works predominantly in urban areas on a large scale, his art reflecting a concern for the individual and an appreciation for public space. In 2002, he started what he calls his “Terrestrial Series” — ephemeral earthworks so expansive as to be visible from space or high places.

His latest work, this six-acre portrait — located midway between the World War II and Lincoln Memorials — is likewise viewable only from a few places: from the top of the newly reopened Washington Monument, on an airplane or via satellite photography. The work was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery.

Rodriguez-Gerada talked recently to senior correspondent Jeffrey Brown about the feeling he wanted to achieve

Rodriguez-Gerada explains why it is was important to him to blend the images of so many different male faces to come up with the “Out of Many, One” — or E Pluribus Unum — theme. He says the issue of race is front and center in this country: “If something happens to Ferguson, it’s not a black problem, it’s our problem, and I think that’s the idea here. It’s we’re all in this together, one big boat.”

The first large “scape” he tackled was “Expectation,” a giant sand painting on a Barcelona beach in the likeness of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. Designed to be viewed from space by Google Earth, the sand and gravel artscape was completed with the help of volunteers in poor weather conditions right before the 2008 election. The work spoke to the themes of hope and change, but also represented that, like the sand and gravel it was made of, those ideals could easily fade away.

Expectations. Photo courtesy of Jorge Rodrídguez-Gerada

“Expectations,” a giant sand painting of Barack Obama, was completed with the help of volunteers in poor weather conditions right before the 2008 election. Photo courtesy of Jorge Rodrídguez-Gerada

In 2013 in Belfast, he created the United Kingdom’s largest portrait ever, called “Wish.” The ephemeral portrait of an anonymous girl making a wish was an ode to that joyful peaceful moment, amplified over 11 acres. “Wish” was 18 months in the planning, and one month in production, executed with the help of a huge team of volunteers.

Video courtesy of Jorge Rodrídguez-Gerada

A time-lapse video of how that came together is below:

Video courtesy of Jorge Rodrídguez-Gerada

That same year in Amsterdam, he created a portrait that spanned almost two football fields of an anonymous female activist, as part of a campaign defending women who are targeted for their human rights work in Central America.

Video courtesy of Jorge Rodrídguez-Gerada

Tune in to tonight’s broadcast of the PBS NewsHour to watch Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada. You can stream on our Ustream Channel at 6 p.m. EDT or check your local listings.

NewsHour videos edited by Geoffrey Guray

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