Topic: 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.
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 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.
Margarete, Helen, and Pablita
Erin Currier lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but has traveled to more than fifty countries, immersing herself in other world cultures, from Nepal to Nicaragua and Turkey. She gets around “on foot or by bus, sketching, documenting, making friends, and collecting disinherited commercial waste,” which informs her art once she returns to her studio. Currier’s travels “have inspired a sense of urgency as an artist to address social inequality and economic disparity.” Here, women from different cultures express their appreciation for art as a universal language.
Liberty Construct #1
Jarrett Christian of Atlanta, Georgia, believes that “the four notions of freedom, put forth by Franklin D. Roosevelt are still cause, in the minds of Americans, to get out of bed, go to work, and put food on the table. But I also believe that we question the strength of the structure on which we place the weight of these ideals.” In this allegory, Lady Liberty is represented as a lifeless figure, while elephants and donkeys in the distance, chained to a rail car, are pulling in opposite directions
Untitled III (Capture the Flag)
Informed by the complex nature of nationalism and patriotism, this work by Celine Browning of Grand Rapids, Michigan, “is a celebration of our many strengths as a nation, but also…the many ways that the national psyche has been affected by perceived threats to our freedom to worship openly, live without fear, and speak our discontent.”
Thoughts of Home
Created with international postage stamps, the figure in this work by Tucson, Arizona artist Barbara Brandel reflects places near and far, and the universal desire for the promise of the Four Freedoms. Her piece comments upon what she terms the Four Necessities—the importance of having “enough to eat, a place to live, a means to earn a living, and a community of friends and family.”
Refugee Families in Winter
As this work reflects, people continue to search for the Four Freedoms that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Norman Rockwell hoped would spread throughout the world. Gary Bist’s painting reflects upon the many refugees who risk their lives in arduous conditions in pursuit of safety, security, and freedom. Here, families face a dark forest that is “similar to the barricades, fences, barbed wire and walls that they must overcome at the border of any country they approach. A slight opening in the forest suggests a possible way in,” said the artist, who resides in Ontario, Canada.
For the artist, the centrality of television in American culture has promoted consumption, passivity, and a loss of identity. “The twenty-four hour cable news cycle, with its bloated fabrications and divisive rhetoric, holds us hostage to glowing screens while subjecting us to colorful advertisements. My works are staged reproductions and critiques of who we have become.” In this work, James Billeaudeau of Lafayette, Louisiana comments upon the lack of civil discourse in our times.
Peaceful Demonstration Helmet (Water Protection)
Freedom of Speech, as expressed through peaceful marches and demonstrations, and their widespread documentation on digital media, was the inspiration for James Berson’s piece. “We must let lawmakers know the will of the people,” wrote the artist, who resides in West Hollywood, California.
For Curt Belshe of Peekskill, New York, this work addresses the complexities of living in a culturally diverse world in the digital information age, which allows us to connect across barriers on a global scale.
The Four Freedoms in the Style of Pontormo
A response to Norman Rockwell’s Golden Rule, a 1961 cover for The Saturday Evening Post, Brandin Barón was inspired by the painting’s focus on ethnic diversity. His response “fuses Rockwell’s color palette to spatial the complexities in [Italian Mannerist painter] Jocopo Pontormo’s Joseph of Egypt (1517-1518). My goal was to create a dialogue between realistic human figures and memorialized forms of historicized American leaders and edifices…as a means of illustrating the trans-historical legacy of the Four Freedoms.” The Golden Gate Bridge, a feature of the artist’s home city of San Francisco, is a prominent element in the work.