Seventy-three years ago, Norman Rockwell was inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt to create paintings of the four rights Americans often take for granted. Using simple, everyday scenes, he captured “a world founded upon four essential human freedoms” and embedded these deep into the nation’s social fabric. Since then, these images have fallen out of the consciousness of modern Americans. But this year, amid one of the most contentious presidential elections in U.S. history, the Wolfsonian-FIU will try to bring them back.
Beginning in late August and leading up to Election Day, the Wolfsonian will present the politically charged exhibit "Thoughts on Democracy: Freedom to Vote 2016." Featuring the work of contemporary designers Mirko Ilic, Oliver Munday, Paul Sahre, and Bonnie Siegler, it will offer a graphic representation of the obstacles in the American voting process, along with the chaos of this year’s presidential election season.
“We wanted to create an expression of solidarity for a right that has been plagued with controversy since the Civil War,” says Steven Heller, who's curating the exhibit along with Ian Rand and Meg Floryan this year. “When we were considering a theme, this seemed like a no-brainer: It was timely because of the election and reflected an innate American freedom.”
Similar to its 2008 counterpart, a show that included the work of 60 contemporary artists, "Thoughts on Democracy: Freedom to Vote 2016" will reimagine Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms through a modern, political lens. However, while Rockwell depicted the freedom of speech, worship, want, and fear in his paintings, the designers of this year’s exhibit have used only “the freedom to vote” as their springboard. They have each concentrate on a different aspect of the American voting process in their designs, shining light to some of its major flaws.
“We chose four artists with distinctive methodologies, who we knew would offer different conceptual approaches to the same prompt,” Heller says. “We didn’t want the same kind of consistency Rockwell had, but we did want to have four categories to echo the four freedoms.”
The final designs created for the exhibit are Freedom to Vote (and make it count), by Mirko Ilic; Freedom to Vote (and not require ID), by Oliver Munday; Freedom to Vote (for the candidate of your choice), by Paul Sahre; and Freedom to Vote (and not wait in a line), by Bonnie Siegler. Using the same patriotic color scheme, they stand together as a bold interpretation of a pressing American problem.
Though the posters by Ilic and Siegler explore the issues that have been the most problematic in Florida in the past elections, namely those of vote counting and long lines at the polls, Sahre’s Freedom to Vote (for the candidate of your choice) should resonate greatly with voters this year. As evidenced by the protests against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, along with the uproar surrounding Latinas for Trump, it is clear that this election season, people will be quick to judge one's preferred presidential candidate.
“When I was first given my topic, I felt myself exploring something that seemed strangely redundant,” says Sahre, whose final design shows the phrase "vote for whom ever" punched into a hanging-chad ballot. “I’ve always thought that if you have the freedom to vote, you should just vote, no matter the candidate. Coming from the Northeast, I thought that the prompt was telling me that it was OK to vote for Trump even if no one wants you to. What's important is that you go out and vote."
Despite its political theme, "Thoughts on Democracy: Freedom to Vote 2016" will show no bias toward either presidential candidate. According to Heller, the show is intended to be nonpartisan; it is meant to be a cautionary note reminding people of their responsibility to vote. As a museum dedicated to propaganda art, the Wolfsonian hopes to use this exhibit to show how different designs can convey a message of importance to a wider community.
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“Creating designs that are centered around a political idea are the closest I get to making a difference,” Munday says, “which may sound quixotic and idealistic. That's why my design for Freedom to Vote (and not require ID) was meant to be striking and show how easily someone’s rights can be exploited. When I thought of how people are removed from the political process, I saw my own face crossed out, and I liked that relationship.”
Munday's final design features his own picture ID printed in blue, with a bold red X covering his face. Using a lot of negative space, it is meant to be a stark poster that shows how simple yet infuriating it is to strip someone of his or her democratic rights.
The four new posters will be exhibited in the Wolfsonian’s lobby alongside reproductions of Rockwell’s original series, and they'll be featured large-scale at Aventura Mall. The museum will also commemorate the images completed in 2008 by projecting them on the side of its building after sunset and by showcasing them on the windows of the Bridge Tender House. These displays are meant to establish an outdoor component to the exhibit that can be accessed by any passerby.
“The exhibit is tied to Miami because it is at the Wolfsonian,” Heller says, “but it addresses a problem that is applicable to every citizen. It is about a fifth freedom that, though left out by Rockwell, is inalienable to any American.”