Freedom of Speech

For Freedoms

Digital photograph, 2018

Hank Willis Thomas and Emily Shur in collaboration with Eric Gottesman and Wyatt Gallery of For Freedoms

In his 1941 State of the Union Address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed “four essential human freedoms” that he believed people all over the world deserved to enjoy: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. His speech, which would later be developed into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, influenced a leading American illustrator, Norman Rockwell (1894–1978), to create a series of oil paintings that represented the Four Freedoms using everyday people as models.

In 1943, Rockwell’s series was reproduced and widely circulated in the Saturday Evening Post, contributing to the public’s acceptance of the Four Freedoms as fundamental principles of American democracy. Rockwell’s work was co-opted by the U.S. government in a variety of ways, including in an exhibition that was jointly curated by the Post and the Department of Treasury. The Office of War Information also printed four million sets of posters of the paintings as part of a drive to sell war bonds. These four concepts, as articulated by FDR and envisioned by Rockwell, inspired generations of artists and became the namesake of For Freedoms.

On the seventy-fifth anniversary of Rockwell’s paintings, For Freedoms collaborated with artists Hank Willis Thomas, Emily Shur, Eric Gottesman, and Wyatt Gallery to create a photographic series that would transform what such liberties might look like today. Over the course of two photo-shoots held in Los Angeles in January and May 2018, more than 150 volunteers were photographed, including public figures, activists, celebrities, and members of the public.

The unexpected turnout is a testament to the continued belief in the Four Freedoms, but also reflects a desire for more inclusive visual representations of Americans. In their final form, the 86 photographic compilations reference Rockwell’s iconic aesthetic in stylized scenes of the everyday and attempt to reflect the immeasurable diversity of American identities today.

For Freedoms is an artist-led organization that models and increases creative civic engagement, discourse and direct action. We work with artists and organizations to center the voices of artists in public discourse, expand what participation in a democracy looks like, and reshape conversations about politics.