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Show & Tell

Molly Freeman's fine art of activism.



On one wall is a collage of black-and-white photos of the dying World Trade Center, underlined with candy Valentine hearts painted black. The other walls, similarly covered, are a gallery of activist art that conveys, with a sense of urgency, that all is not right with the world, and people need to get off their asses and do something about it. This is Molly Freeman's bedroom. She is 15.

Don't let her young age fool you, though. This sophomore at St. Mary's Episcopal School is as bright as any old agitator. She may not have lived through Vietnam, but she's living through times that, several decades down the road, may be looked back on as just as turbulent, and her political art is a direct reflection of that.

"The biggest problem with people today is not caring. If you mix an image that really jumps out at you with a message, it can sort of ingrain that idea into a person's mind. That's what I try to do. I just want people to be less apathetic about everything," says Freeman.

She hasn't shown her art to many people, but on Friday, February 7th, it will be unveiled to the public at Java Cabana in a monthlong exhibition. Any money she makes is earmarked for her "Art School Tuition Fund" to attend the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Freeman's pieces make powerful statements about what's going on in the world, all the while demonstrating a natural talent for capturing ideas in visual form. From multimedia collages to acrylic paintings on canvas to charcoal illustrations to black-and-white photography, she dabbles in a bit of everything. But she feels art school is necessary for her advancement.

"I'm hoping that I'll never be confined by the rules of art, but I think training will make me more aware of what I can do as opposed to what I'm not supposed to do," she says. "When you're young, your mind's more formative, and I think that's also true as far as formal training goes. When you don't have formats and rules to follow, you can do more without people telling you that it's wrong, but I do think that it can be beneficial to get some help after a certain point."

Freeman's interest in art goes back to her days of drawing in kindergarten. When her family made the move from Jonesboro, Arkansas, to Memphis a little over four years ago, she began to shy away from art and turn her attention to writing. But last year at a summer camp, she took an activist workshop, and she was reunited with her old love of visual expression. In the workshop, she learned a lot about injustices at Coca-Cola plants overseas, and her first political piece, An American Family Favorite, was born: A Coca-Cola logo in the center of a plastic American flag is surrounded by words like "exploitation" and "corruption." It's attached to a canvas that's been painted gray, and letters in the form of a ransom note serve as a call to action.

Another piece on Freeman's bedroom wall has two hands with outstretched fingers alongside the painted words "Patriotism is the child of prejudice, pride, and segregation."

Most of her political pieces combine images with words to create a very defined message, leaving the viewer little room for personal interpretation. Of course, that's very effective when trying to make a political statement, but political art isn't all Freeman creates. She has several portraits as well as abstract pieces, black-and-white stills, and charcoal sketches that illustrate lyrics from the songs of her favorite band, Jump Little Children.

One painting shows an egg surrounded by a sea of dark-blue sky. There are two moons on either side of the egg to represent the passage of time. She says the egg represents hopes and dreams, and just as an egg can be easily broken, so can our hopes and dreams over time.

Freeman also plays bass in an all-girl alt-rock band called Green Tea. Although she claims she's not inspired by the work of other visual artists, she cites music as one of her biggest influences.

As far as her political interests go, she says spending a great part of her childhood in Durham, North Carolina, has played a major role. Her mother, Dr. Sarah Wilkerson-Freeman, a history professor at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, says the high degree of social consciousness in Durham has had an impact on Molly. Now her daughter is doing something with her activist upbringing by giving people something to look at and think about.

"If you set before somebody a book with information on a whole bunch of issues, it takes so much effort to read it, and a lot of people don't care enough to put the time into it. But if you show somebody an image, it can inspire someone and then they might go out and research that specific thing later," says Freeman. "I don't necessarily think I can cure ignorance with art, but I think it can definitely awaken the urge in someone to go learn something."

At Java Cabana through March 6

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