In a 1941 address to Congress, which sought to bolster patriotism during a time of war, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described his vision for a post-World-War-II world as one founded on four universal freedoms: freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech, and freedom of worship. Inspired by these aspirational community values, American painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell created works for The Saturday Evening Post. The Rockwell images were widely distributed and became iconic representations of American Democracy. However, it was a limited depiction. At the time, the publisher maintained a policy that restricted images to White people only—unless people of color were represented in positions of servitude.
In 2019, artists Hank Willis Thomas and Emily Shur, in collaboration with Eric Gottesman and Wyatt Gallery, reinterpreted these four freedoms works and brought them forward to represent a more accurate and inclusive depiction of America. Willis Thomas, Gottesman, Gallery, and Michelle Woo had in 2016 established an artists’ collective called For Freedoms, which galvanizes communities and catalyzes change by empowering the voices of artists and creatives. Among its many initiatives, the collective—formed on the principles of community, justice, and love— created the largest public art project in American history, utilizing billboards nationwide to present artists’ distinct voices.
“All artists are activists—it’s just whether or not they own up to it. You don’t have to have a specific agenda to be an artist. Art has always been political. All artists have the freedom of expression and freedom of speech. That’s something artists have to take accountability for.” Hank Willis Thomas