Topic: Contemporary Artists: Reimagining the Four Freedoms
Since the time of the Enlightenment, philosophers and activists have contemplated the nature of liberty and its associated responsibilities. Building on those ideas, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented a particularly ambitious characterization of liberty when, in his 1941 Annual Message to Congress, he argued that Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear should be accepted as human rights not only in the United States, but “everywhere in the world.”
As public dialogue becomes increasingly discordant, the very notion of the common good, and of civic engagement and civil discourse, is called into question. Are the Four Freedoms, as articulated by President Roosevelt and interpreted by artist Norman Rockwell in The Saturday Evening Post, still relevant as organizing principles of civil society, or are they now reflective of a bygone era?
Inspired by the legacies of Roosevelt and Rockwell, Reimagining the Four Freedoms is a juried exhibition inviting contemporary artists to consider two questions:
How might notions of freedom, as presented by Roosevelt and Rockwell during the World War II era, be reinterpreted for our times? What does freedom look like today?
This installation represents the diverse spectrum of responses received from artists across the nation and in Canada. Their compelling artworks in all media give voice to their observations and concerns about freedoms found and lost in our times.
Read the Press Release for Reimagining the Four Freedoms
Additional materials in the exhibit have been drawn from the digital collections of the Library of Congress (LC), the National Archives (NARA), the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library (FDRL), and the United Nations (UN), and items have also been drawn from the Roosevelt House collection (RH).
The Ford Foundation supported the competition for Reimagining the Four Freedoms.
Leadership support for Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms is provided by Jay Alix, The Alix Foundation and the George Lucas Family Foundation.
National Presenting Sponsor is
Major support provided by Anonymous, Michael Bakwin, Helen Bing, Elephant Rock Foundation, Annie and Ned Lamont, Ted Slavin and
Additional support provided by Anthony and Susan Consigli, Ralph and Audrey Friedner, Louise Holland, and our GoFundMe supporters.
a division of the Saturday Evening Post, and the Norman Rockwell Family Agency.
Through Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares
This work by Esther Iverem of Washington, D.C., “interrogates the Four Freedoms through the experience of Africans who survived the Middle Passage, enslavement in the United States, Reconstruction, the totalitarianism of Jim Crow and—one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation—a new century of challenges and hope.” A fiber artist, Iverem has constructed her piece from denim jeans and other reclaimed materials that individually carry their own narratives.
Freedom of Speech
A native of Germany and resident of Northampton, Massachusetts, Peter Zierlin feels that “freedom of speech is under attack. We live in the post-fact era,” an era of fake news. In this work, he chose “a red, white and blue theme, as these issues are American issues, and the colors represent the polarity in society.” The artist has created elaborate papercuts for posters, murals, and illustrations for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Nation, among others.
In this work, Amy Wike of Washington, D.C., presents a unique transcription of one crucial sentence from the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights. “The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,” has been knitted in Morse code, in English (blue), Somali (red), French (representing the Democratic Republic of the Congo; gray), and Arabic (representing Syria; green). “The last three languages represent the top three nations from which refugees arrived in the United States in 2017,” the artist notes. “My work plays with the ideas of translation, interpretation, and the complexities of language. The resulting amorphous shapes act as visual representations of the intricacies of communication.”
Iran, Women, Hijab
“As an Iranian woman, artist and photographer, politics have defined my life,” said Fazilat Soukhakian of Salt Lake City, Utah. Fascinated by human interest stories and what they tell us about society, her work primarily deals with the political and social aspects of her surroundings. “Although it has been more than seventy-seven years since Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke about the Four Freedoms, which he regarded to be essential on a universal level, many people across the world still struggle with obtaining these freedoms. In this particular photograph, a child and women are depicted in a contemporary patriarchal society, in which their voice, appearance, and bodies are controlled by a religiously-entangled government.”
Le Marché captures the light and color of Italy’s Adriatic coast, where “a Muslim woman checks her cell phone with her baby happily secured on her back—the two about to shop at an outdoor market overflowing with fruits and vegetables,” caused the artist to reflect on the nature of freedom. Leslie Sills is a painter, author, and art educator who resides in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Iranian American photographer Soody Sharifi of Houston, Texas has a foot planted firmly in in both cultures, and often explores the notion of identity in his art. His piece was inspired by Norman Rockwell’s 1967 painting for Look, New Kids in the Neighborhood. “The Game asks what it means to be both American and Moslem today,” said the artist. “Is there a conflict between the two identities, particularly during the formative period of adolescence? Are the values of Islam and democracy inherently in conflict with one another, or is this an unquestioned assumption? How have Muslims viewed themselves within American culture, and how has that changed post 9/11?”
Mother and Daughter, Women’s March
Andréanna Seymore uses photography as a means of inquiry into social class, subculture, and counterculture. Her vivid color work captures the organized chaos of everyday people, and illuminates them in ways that prompt the viewer to think about what is occurring beyond the frame of the photograph. A resident of New York City, she traveled to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. where she captured this image of a mother and daughter in the midst of the crowd. Photographs from her recent monograph, Scars and Stripes: The Culture of Modern Roller Derby, have been acquired by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Robert Selby of Colton, New York has observed that “despite the election of Barak Obama, the first president of color, this nation has yet to come to terms with the legacy of slavery and segregation. Racism confronts America like a closed door. We have made progress, but we are not truly free as long as doors remain closed. My diptych, Colored/White takes Negro Leagues baseball as a theme because our ability to overcome barriers intersects profoundly in this uniquely American pastime.” A self-taught artist whose illustration career began at a newspaper, Selby has taught at Rhode Island School of Design and University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, among others.
A resident of Chicago, Illinois, Kathryn Scott is a photographer who takes inspiration from her family’s heritage as part of the Great Migration of African Americans who moved from the South to Northern states during the early twentieth century. “I don’t just see people moving through life when I look through the lens of my camera, but a story on every face,” said the artist. As in this work, she is especially interested in what connects us, and seeks to capture “images that coax in the viewer a feeling of universal familiarity, and an awareness of the freedoms that we hold dear in our nation.”
The Four Freedoms (A Tribute to Norman Rockwell)
Sculptor Deborah Samia’s bas reliefs portray each of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms with a contemporary twist. “Those living in the margins of our society should have their voices heard,” wrote the artist, who lives in Oakland, California. Freedom of Speech portrays a female night janitor, who may be undervalued at work, but is the matriarch and provider for her family at home. “In Freedom of Worship re-imagining, I include Eastern religions that have flourished in our country since Rockwell’s lifetime…Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism. Our country can be unified in knowing that we are all Americans, even while honoring our different heritages and beliefs.” In Freedom from Want, an African American family shares a meal, “a safe place where young and old, friends and family, are welcomed in anticipation of the feast.” Freedom of Fear portrays a Sikh family living in fear of hate crimes
The Friend of the Family
Evoking collective fears surrounding authority, commercialism, and technology, Jonathan Monaghan’s video installations and related prints portray a kind of dystopic fantasy. This piece depicts an idealized bedroom, in which an ominous technological contraption hovers like an alien spaceship. Golden surveillance cameras and stanchions evoke a type of security state. “Referencing Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Fear, my work subverts Rockwell’s warm, family scene in favor of a glossy, dehumanized coldness, eliciting fears and anxieties surrounding technology and the future,” said the artist, who is based in Washington, D.C.
Religious Family Tree
For Lisa Long of Dublin, California, “human connection is vital to our existence—connection to each other, to nature, to ideas. These are all part of the great human experience. My work in paper cutting reflects this need for connection because each part is integral to the structure of the overall piece.” Spiritual leaders representing diverse faiths and cultural traditions are represented in her art, including Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama. A Muslim woman, a Sikh man, an Orthodox Jewish man, and a Hindi woman “who live their religious beliefs” are also integral to the composition.