Hank Willis Thomas’ For Freedoms takes over billboards in all US states and territories
Featuring Ai Weiwei, Guerrilla Girls and more, the campaign “co-opts advertising mechanisms of the political system” giving the platform to artists to ask a question they think is most pertinent during this tumultuous time.
- Jenny Brewer
- 13 October 2020
Yesterday on Indigenous Peoples Day (12 October), For Freedoms – the artist activist group co-founded in 2016 by Hank Willis Thomas, Eric Gottesman Michelle Woo and Wyatt Gallery – launched an epic billboard campaign that will appear in all 50 US states plus Washington DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa and the US Virgin Islands. The billboards, normally used by political campaigns and brands, are handed over to more than 70 artists and groups such as Ai Weiwei, Maggie Rogers, Christine Sun Kim, Judd Foundation, Guerrilla Girls, Shepard Fairey and Gina Belafonte, to pose a question as commentary on our current societal situation.
Taylor Brock, For Freedoms creative producer and artist, whose piece Stream of Consciousness for Healing will be displayed in Nashville, explains the thinking behind the project in the context of the activist group’s ongoing work. “During For Freedoms' nationwide campaigns, we co-opt the advertising mechanisms of our political system; billboards, lawn signs, and town halls. Rather than sharing candidate-based messaging, we share artists-created messages encouraging deep thinking, self reflection, and discourse.
“What happens when some of the most creative imaginations co-opt the largest, most unavoidable public advertising spaces across the nation?” Brock continues. “How does your experience change when you’re driving down the road and expect to see yet another reductive political slogan or an ad for the latest iPhone and instead are confronted with a work of art? This confrontation forces you to pause, even if it’s just for a moment – that pause is what this campaign is all about.”
As such, artist Mark “Feijão” Milligan II’s piece asks “Does Black innocence matter?” and Meena Harris’ piece with Phenomenal and the African American Policy Forum asks “Will you say her name?”
The billboards are part of 2020 Awakening, the group’s larger campaign leading up to the election, which was inspired by the Wide Awakes of 1860 – a band of abolitionist activists whose communal confrontation of partisan instability led to the election of Abraham Lincoln. For Freedoms has recently led a series of events across the US to mark the 160th anniversary of the Wide Awakes procession of 1860, including a march in New York from the African Center in Harlem to Federal Hall.
“Our billboard campaign is the great equaliser for accessing art,” comments For Freedoms’ Claudia Peña. “There’s no fee to pay, no intimidating door to walk through, no exclusive club focused on inviting VIPs only. You just need to be on a road to somewhere.”
Thomas was also part of a roster of creatives who contributed bandana designs to voting campaign, Artists Band Together.
GalleryFor Freedoms Billboards campaign
© Mark “Feijão” Milligan II / For Freedoms. Photo by Chalana Brown, courtesy @markmilliganart