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.
Freedom of Speech—Fake News
Created as a drawing and completed with digital media, this piece by Kenneth Laird of High Point, North Carolina offers a contemporary perspective on Freedom of Speech. “The American diet of round-the-clock cable news and the proliferation of “fake News” stories on social media has eroded this freedom’s foundation,” said the artist. An accomplished creative director, the artist is also a professional illustrator and portraitist.
Felice House of Austin, Texas is a representational figurative painter focused on feminist portraiture. “Today women paint women as we see ourselves,” said the artist, in contrast with the passive, overly-sexualized portrayals that are culturally pervasive. Olive Branch serves as a tribute to the unrecognized women who have championed peace.
This image by Sarah Hoskins of Libertyville, Illinois, is part of The Homeplace, a series of photographs focusing on the African American hamlets in Kentucky’s inner Bluegrass Region. “In the decade after the Civil War, these were originally inhabited by freed slaves who worked on area farms,” wrote the artist. “My project is a tribute to the elders who learned of slavery at their grandparents’ knees and endured the Jim Crow south—who lived ‘separate but equal’ and saw milestones and their impacts, including desegregation, social segregation, and the election of President Barack Obama. The residents did much more than endure and survive negative circumstances, they rose above them and thrived.”
Freedom from Want
Freedom from Want addresses the right to an adequate standard of living, and to sufficient food, clothing, and shelter. As the artist’s poignant work reveals, “the ever- present image of homelessness represents a longing for those very things.” On any given night, more than 643,000 people experience homelessness in America, including families, veterans, and those suffering from mental illness and fleeing from domestic violence.
An Uncertain Future
Inspired by Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Fear, this emotional work by Chris Hopkins of Everett, Washington looks back on the Japanese internment during World War II, “with the hope that something like this will never happen again.” The artist’s paintings celebrate the human spirit, focusing on subjects of cultural importance. Widely-published as an illustrator, he has created imagery for a wide range of commissions, including the film, entertainment, and sports industries—from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to the Super Bowl.
To Have and To Hold
“As a queer person, marriage equality has been the greatest, most personally legitimizing freedom granted in this country in my lifetime,” said illustrator Bri Hermanson of Northampton, Massachusetts. “To me, the evolution of marriage laws are an expansion of the ideals of freedom presented by Roosevelt and Rockwell.” Referencing the marriage tradition of “something old and something new,” the artist included the circular element that symbolized the early Saturday Evening Post, while same-sex marriage represents the dawn of a new age.
Breaking Free through Script (Script from Within)
A Dutch immigrant and former public defender, Marcia Haffmans of Minneapolis, Minnesota, focuses on the loss of freedom and the incarceration of women by incorporating authentic commentary from those behind bars in her art. She obtained personal reflections by distributing a call for submissions to correctional facilities, inviting participants to write any topic of importance to them. “To visualize these unheard voices, I trace fragments of the authentic handwritings of the women through hand-stitching, with needle and thread,” Haffmans said. “Each handwriting sits in a unique sculpture made from synthetic polymers and fibers as a lasting heritage.”
For Denver, Colorado artist, Sarah Fukami, the irony of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms was the contradiction of these ideals by Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Here, the artist focuses on “the façade of freedom propagated by the president through the use of images taken from Manzanar, one of ten internment camps operated by the United States government during World War II. Jiyu (Freedom) seeks to reveal buried histories and warn against the repetition of these atrocities.”
Freedom of Religion Re-Imagined
A photojournalist from New York City, Jane Feldman comments upon Freedom of Religion in this joyous photograph, which was taken in a garden following a Universal Worship Service originated by Sufi leader Inayat Kahn (1882-1927) to invoke the One Being through indigenous and major faith traditions. “Recommitting ourselves to defending this most sacred Freedom is essential now more than ever,” said the artist, who finds religious bias in our times concerning. “At the core of all spiritual teachings are kindness and compassion, which are essential.”
Freedom of Religion, Freedom to Believe
New Hampshire artist Daniela Edstrom observes that, “as Rockwell suggests, we must work together toward the highest ideals for the greater good of society and humanity.” In her art, the unifying qualities of faith and the mysteries of religious practice are referenced. Present are the sacred Muslim arch and the Madonna and Buddha in thoughtful meditation. Brahma, a Hindu deity, holds the icons of his faith, and Christendom’s apple of temptation is a symbol of “man’s wavering soul, tested by the forces of darkness.” A cemetery filled with American flags “speaks of the cost of freedom in an often contradictory world.”
Candace Eaton of Northport, New York took the opportunity to reflect upon Freedom from Fear in this work, which comments upon the violence that has become all too prevalent in society. “Now,” said the artist, “our children stand along—their parents cannot protect them. Terrorism and the indiscriminate slaughter of the innocent had ripped that security away.” In this painting, the lone child confronts the viewer, asking why. In addition to her personal work, Eaton is a courtroom artist whose drawings have been published in Newsday and on television.
Sunday Night/Monday Morning
The interior of a church and a factory are brought together in John Dempsey’s painting, which reimagines Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Religion and Freedom from Want. A reflection on “the transition from Sunday night into Monday morning,” the piece connects the spiritual and the temporal. The artist resides in Flint, Michigan, once known as Vehicle City for its active car industry, before a shrinking economy and the loss of jobs caused many to fall into poverty. A view from the Staten Island Ferry looking north into New York Harbor leads us to the Statue of Liberty, which carries a torch that lights a path to liberty, freedom, and hope.