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.
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.
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.
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.
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.