Artists like Banksy and so many others have used their art to make political statements. The Black Arts Movement was and is a powerful voice addressing oppression and inequality through words, visuals, and music. I could spend hours on the power of art as activism, even down to seemingly innocuous paintings by Warhol.
The truth is, art has always been political. Heroes and villains throughout history have used poster art, graffiti, television, music, and writing to rattle cages. Even oppressive, murderous regimes have used art as propaganda to sway public opinion and stoke nationalism.
For Freedoms describes itself as an “artist-led organization that models and increases creative civic engagement, discourse & direct action”. Their new project is an ambitious billboard campaign designed to address and resolve societal harm founded on indigenous and migrant rights, promoting racial and gender injustice, and accessibility and advocacy for people with disabilities. In tandem, the involved multidisciplinary artists of over 53 practitioners and organizations navigate the current harrowing and unsettled terrain through their individual experiences. In appropriate time for Juneteenth, the organization is set to run billboards in 25 cities, including Philly, in an initiative called “What Does Justice Mean To You?”.
Previous campaigns from For Freedoms include revamping Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms’ paintings for the cover of TIME and collaborating with Alicia Keys/NFL Kick-Off. This campaign includes calls for justice for Breonna Taylor, prison reform messages, messages about public safety, and many more.
Highlighted artists within this particular billboard campaign include the first incarcerated person to win public office in D.C., Joel Castón, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Garrett Bradley, photographer Jamel Shabazz, or the prison abolition organization Zealous, these billboards seek to critique the current carceral state and consider solutions that center healing—particularly for communities disproportionately impacted by incarceration.