Does Freedom Really Ring? Michele Pred’s Art Calls Attention to Inequity in America

Through her exhibit “Freedom is for Everybody,” artist-activist Michele Pred is using visual art to call attention to social issues from reproductive rights to gender and racial inequity.

In her latest exhibition, “Freedom is for Everybody,” artist-activist Michele Pred uses sculpture, assemblage and performance as a call-to-action to uplift marginalized voices, activate and mobilize around the protection of freedom for all bodies—now more than ever. 

Given the recent ban on abortion in Texas and laws passed in MissouriAlabama and Georgia in 2019 that effectively banned most abortion procedures, the exhibition is appropriately titled with a focus on the suppression of reproductive rights. 

While explaining the title, Pred told Ms.: “Freedom is for every BODY obviously connects with reproductive rights—and unfortunately, as we know, [our rights] are continuing to be threatened. Simultaneously, Freedom is for EVERY body has a meaning that is two-fold [as it includes] everyone in our country.  We don’t have equal justice and we don’t have equal rights between Black, white and brown people.”

Does Freedom Really Ring? Michele Pred's Art Calls Attention to Inequity in America
Michele Pred, My Body My Business. Vanity and neon, 65″ × 52″ × 18″. (Courtesy of Michele Pred)

Pred’s work continues to inspire dialogue through the symbolism in her art. “We, in our country, experience freedom differently. What it is or isn’t, or what people think it is in our country [varies],” said Pred. “So, I like to respond to a particular moment in history—a political moment.” 

Pred’s art focuses on feminist themes such as equal pay, personal security and reproductive rights. From past staged feminist art parades at Art Basel Miami to get-out-the-vote marches in New York ahead of the midterm elections, Pred tirelessly continues to commit her work and initiative to human rights issues, driving conversations into public spaces.

Perhaps her most well-known sculptural pieces are the vintage mid-century purses with neon phrases stemmed from current social resistance movements—such as “Time’s Up (2018)—which have graced the pages of Vanity Fair and Oscar red carpets. Part of her “Power of the Purse” series, the purses are a symbolism of women’s economic empowerment and a key reminder of changes through the women’s movement.

Does Freedom Really Ring? Michele Pred's Art Calls Attention to Inequity in America
Art by Michele Pred. (Suzy Gorman)

Vintage shoes with unwanted expired placebo birth control pills from her “In Our Shoes (2013) series represent the growing impediments to safe and affordable birth control and other services specific to women in the United States.

Pieces from her “Homeland Security” series after the 9/11 attacks included objects confiscated at the San Francisco airport. Pred reuses innocuous sharp or combustible objects, such as Swiss Army knives and portable lighters, to create cultural symbols of safety 20 years after 9/11.

Does Freedom Really Ring? Michele Pred's Art Calls Attention to Inequity in America
Enflamed by Michele Pred. (Suzy Gorman)

To fight the injustice of the wage gap—which has grown wider as a result of the pandemic—Pred’s initiative “The Art of Equal Pay” includes a call to action: a pledge to encourage women-identifying and non-binary artists across the country to increase their prices by 15 percent in order to decrease the gender and racial wage gap in art. Parallel to this pledge, Pred has created a survey to better understand the known disparities and help paint a more complete picture of faced challenges in the post-COVID world. 

Does Freedom Really Ring? Michele Pred's Art Calls Attention to Inequity in America
Freedom of Choice: American Flag on wood. 12″ × 63″ × 1 1/2″. (Suzy Gorman)

No stranger to impactful responses to feminist agenda disruptions, Pred knows that timeliness is the key to artistic activations. Pred said she seeks to “help other people to see in different ways, [and create art] instigating or provoking or new thought dialogue. But, my message is clear,” she said. “This is feminist art. And, I like responding in as real-time as possible—responding in the moment.”

Pred’s “Freedom is for Everybody” exhibition will run through August 7, 2021 at projects+gallery in Saint Louis, Missouri, and will also include sculptures from previous exhibitions from the past 20 years. For every purse the exhibition sells, 5 percent of the proceeds will be donated to Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

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Sophia Michelen is a women and children's rights activist, writer, photojournalist, and global health and humanitarian professional. She has experience in international policy, advocacy, research and communication, working with nonprofits, NGOs and international governments. Currently committed to children’s rights, Sophia has worked in emergency relief in the Middle East, on health-system strengthening projects for girls in East Africa, and created advocacy and communication programs for women in Latin America.