Topic: Reimagining the Four Freedoms: A Selection of Works by Contemporary Artists
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
Major support for Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms has been generously provided by Jay Alix | The Alix Foundation and George Lucas Family Foundation, and by national presenting sponsor The Travelers Companies, Inc. Additional support is provided by an anonymous donor, Michael Bakwin, Helen Bing, Elephant Rock Foundation, Ford Foundation, Heritage Auctions, Annie and Ned Lamont, National Endowment for the Arts, and Ted Slavin. Media sponsors include: Curtis Licensing, a division of The Saturday Evening Post, and Norman Rockwell Family Agency.
Arrested: Contemptuous Larcenist
Daisy Rockwell grew up in a family of artists in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. A granddaughter of Norman Rockwell, she is a scholar of South Asian literature who is fluent in Urdu. She grew up painting and continued to make art through her college years, but stopped when she went to graduate school. When she returned to New England after working in academia at the University of California, Berkley, she began painting again, developing series like Arrested to spur public dialogue and give voice to the incarcerated—particularly women—who strive to be heard.
“This set of paintings is a continuation of my work on ancient Indian rasa theory, a study that began with an exploration of the notion of terrorism and the war on terror, a battle ostensibly being waged against the emotion of fear,” the artist said. “As part of the war against terrorism, Americans are urged to feel frightened and suspicious of others, rather than free of fear, as in Roosevelt’s, and Rockwell’s, formulation.” Rasa means essence, and Sanskrit aestheticians delineated eight or nine of these essential moods, which are found in the arts. In these works, it is up to the viewer to decide what mood each woman is experiencing.
“I’ve done paintings of politicians and dictators, and there are thou-sands of pictures of these people on the Internet,” said the artist. “But for these women, there was hardly anything. Their lives were only scantily doc-umented.” Drawn from photographic police records, her subjects confront the viewer directly in works that resemble Mughal miniatures, the tiny, gem-like illustrations produced in South Asia from 16th to the 19th cen-turies. Rockwell is the author of The Little Book of Terror and Taste. Her translation of Upendranath Ashk’s novel, Girti Divarein, was published as Falling Walls, and she has also translated the works of Hindi writer Bhisham Sahni, among others.
Freedom from What?
In 2015, Maurice ‘Pops’ Peterson debuted Reinventing Rockwell, a series of artworks reimagining iconic paintings by the famed American illustrator for today’s times. Celebrating diversity and exploring the evolution of gender roles and shifting notions of sexuality, the series includes this piece, which takes inspiration from Rockwell’s Freedom from Fear. Like Rockwell, Peterson enlisted neighbors and friends as models, and utilized the newspaper in the father’s hand to call attention to his theme. The headline refers to a July 2014 incident, when Eric Garner, an unarmed African American man, died while being held in a choke hold by police. Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” were repeated several times and captured on video. An award-winning artist, designer, and writer, Peterson was named the first Artist in Residence of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
We the People
On February 19, 1942, more than a year after his Four Freedoms speech, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of people of Japanese descent. By June of that year, more than 120,000 people of all ages has been relocated to remote internment camps. “My grandparents were among those citizens interned for three years,” illustrating the complications and contradictions inherent in American life, noted Sara Dilliplane of Boston, Massachusetts. This animation short illustrates the emotional landscape of recent political events, “a kaleidoscope of modern interpretations of the Four Freedoms, where in the space between our ideals and reality, the potential of hope persists.”
Four Freedoms Today
Tim Needles video presents forty opinions on the state of the Four Freedoms today. The artist invited a diverse group of residents to offer their thoughts, which he captured first-hand. “A range of interpretations are represented,” notes Needles, who invited contemporary consideration of Roosevelt’s ideals. An award-winning artist and educator from Port Jefferson, New York, he has taught art and media for twenty years.
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.
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.
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