Exhibit fuses art, activism

The For Freedoms installation on display at Vassar provides students with the opportunity to analyze social and political discourse as it effects groups both on and off campus. Photo by Emily Sayer/The Miscellany News
The For Freedoms installation on display at Vassar provides students with the opportunity to analyze social and political discourse as it effects groups both on and off campus. Photo by Emily Sayer/The Miscellany News
The For Freedoms installation on display at Vassar provides students with the opportunity to analyze social and political discourse as it effects groups both on and off campus. Photo by Emily Sayer/The Miscellany News

Named for Norman Rockwell’s depictions of FDR’s Four Freedoms, the first artist-run super PAC, For Freedoms, challenges classic conceptualizations of democracy with visual activist campaigns representing a broader range of American narratives. The super PAC aims to involve its audiences in politics using art exhibitions and spectacle to help them reimagine their role in supporting various domestic and international agendas. Capitalizing on the buzz generated by this election season, For Freedoms encourages viewers to consider the intersectionality of race, gender, socioeconomic disparity, citizen/migrant status and other aspects of identity politics in public discourse.

UnFramed is a student organization founded by Matthew McCardwell ’17 on the ideals of inclusive political dialogue and art as a tool of activism. The org is horizontally structured, unfettered by hierarchical managerial pressures.

Pictured above are posters created by Vassar students for For Freedoms that confront myriad forms of systemic oppression. Their sentiments encompass a range of reactions to the current political climate. Photo by Emily Sayer/The Miscellany News
Pictured above are posters created by Vassar students for For Freedoms that confront myriad forms of systemic oppression. Their sentiments encompass a range of reactions to the current political climate. Photo by Emily Sayer/The Miscellany News

Like For Freedoms, unFramed agitates around liberal social causes and policies. McCardwell explained his rationale for bringing For Freedoms to the Vassar Collaboratory, saying, “This summer my friend Samantha Kohl [and I] were both working at different art nonprofits that focus on community and public art and we saw this exhibition at the Jack Shainman gallery by the first ever art super PAC called For Freedoms and we fell in love with it. We got in touch with the founders and asked if we could start a dialogue about how that would look at Vassar and we got in touch with the two primary founders. One [of the founders] is Eric Gottesman, who’s an artist who’s currently teaching at Hampshire college in Amherst, MA and he was like, what if you guys started a charter…so this is the realization of the first ever charter of For Freedoms.”

The exhibit at the Collaboratory is plastered with student-made posters representing participants’ individual convictions regarding human rights in the U.S.

For Freedoms encourages audiences to rethink their perceptions of human rights in the U.S. and acknowledge the lived experiences of people both within and outside of their communities. Photo by Emily Sayer/The Miscellany News
For Freedoms encourages audiences to rethink their perceptions of human rights in the U.S. and acknowledge the lived experiences of people both within and outside of their communities. Photo by Emily Sayer/The Miscellany News

Many of the posters express the desire for freedom from structural racism, marginalizing policies and practices and different forms of gender violence, among others.

McCardwell stated, “For Freedoms is a collective of about like 40 plus artists. Their slogan is that they’re using the medium of American democracy, so they registered themselves as a super PAC back in the spring and they’ve been campaigning with basically an advertisement campaign with all the different artists’ works so it’s something that’s grown as the super PAC has grown. More artists have become involved– they have hundreds of events all over the country and there are billboards up of different artists’ projects and the first realization of it this summer at the gallery where they took over the gallery as a campaign office headquarters kind of like this. We’re trying to recreate that here.”

Another facet of the display, a campaign by Swedish-American artist Michele Pred titled Her Body, Her Vote, is also featured at the Collaboratory. The project urges onlookers to write letters to senators addressing their positions on pro-choice politics and flood social media with hashtags like #HerBodyHerVote, #MyBodyMyVote and #MyBodyMyChoice.

When Pred collects all of the letters from the installations of her exhibit, she will to mail them to senators in transparent envelopes so that the receivers will be forced to confront the contents of the package prior to opening.

Liza Ayres ’18 perused the exhibit, taken with the Pred project.

Ayres exclaimed, “I love how unFramed brought to campus something that mixes art with social justice. I just wrote a paper about the pro-choice movement for one of my seminars, so I especially enjoyed learning about Michele Pred’s project. Her project is a great way to enact change because it exposes many diverse facets of society to the pro-choice movement as the packages to the senators go through transport. It’s a new take on how to combine art and social change through a platform that is engaging and fun.”

On For Freedoms’ actions as a super PAC specifically, McCardwell added, “The thing that we’ve been talking about…[considering] the almost surreal nature of this election season, the artists are campaigning for a new vision of democracy. They aren’t necessarily promoting one candidate or another. They’re not running for political office…they’re more running a campaign and they declared themselves as a super PAC, and in that way they’re holding meetings about democracy and about the nature of campaigning and the nature of how we choose based on a representative democracy and an electoral system … So what I’d say they’re campaigning for is art.”

A curious passerby stopped in the Collaboratory while dropping off his high school-aged daughter for an overnight.

Wishing to remain anonymous, he remarked, “It’s cool that you guys are doing things like this. You should take it out into the community!”

Continued collaboration between groups like For Freedoms and unFramed is guaranteed to further foster relationships between students and broader U.S. sociopolitical spheres. Hopefully, the political consciousness and activism on campus that such projects perpetuate will ensure that students remain engaged and thoughtful citizens during and after their time at Vassar.

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