“Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. A decent man apologizes not to save face, not to win a vote. He apologizes, and genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
It’s funny to me that the early work of artist Vivian Browne (1929-1993) somehow caught my eye today. Her “Little Men” series was reported to be the first body of work the artist created between 1967 and 1968, and it so clearly captures the essence of immaturity, misogyny, abuse of power, and white male fragility, I had to share some images from Ryan Lee Gallery’s presentation of her work in 2019. I paired images from the solo exhibition along with Browne’s own thoughts about the series from her interview with Henri Gant in 1968*. While the paintings and illustrations speak for themselves, Browne’s piercing observations bring them to life.
“First of all, they are afraid. Secondly, they are not strong enough. And there they are, really, at a standstill.”
“One or two of the paintings are humorous in a kind of way. It’s like standing off, looking and watching somebody go through his little dance and you know he’s just going to play and he’s not going to do anything.”
“I think that since the paintings show people not at their best, often at their worst, it’s hard to look at. They are problems. But, yes, it’s hard to look at…people are afraid of the reality.”
“I think that looking at that should not, perhaps, invoke fear so much as interest action. But this really doesn’t happen. People just cut off, you know; they take on glance and they just cut right off. They won’t discuss it either which would be helpful.”
Henri Ghent’s interview with Vivian Browne in 1968 is another salient example of history’s ability to speak in the present. As the tantrums, inequities, racism, and sexism continue, the tolerance for the behavior of little men continues to wane.
As Ocasio-Cortez addressed congress today she made her own position on little men and their abuse clear: “I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.”
*Oral history interview with Vivian Browne, 1968 July 1. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.