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Independent 20th Century | we were there: activist art 1968 to 1983

September 7 – 10, 2023
Battery Maritime Building, New York, NY
Booth D1

Camille Billops, Vivian Browne, and May Stevens

Portrait of Camille Billops, 1973. © Mary Ellen Andrews; Courtesy of the Hatch-Billops Archives, New York.

Portrait of Vivian Browne in her studio, 1971. © Jeanie Brown; Courtesy of RYAN LEE Gallery, New York.

Portrait of May Stevens, c. 1970. Courtesy of RYAN LEE Gallery, New York.


At this year’s Independent 20th Century Fair, RYAN LEE is pleased to present pioneering works by Camille Billops, Vivian Browne, and May Stevens in celebration of the 50th anniversary of a seminal year in their lives. These three powerful feminist artists, largely active in the 1960s to the 1990s and beyond, were deeply influential to the New York City art scene, their accomplishments and legacies still coming to light today.

The works on view in the gallery’s booth were produced by these friends and artists when they were truly gaining momentum in their multi-disciplinary art and activism: the 1960s to the very early 1980s. The works are punctuated by their makers’ deep involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, Anti-Vietnam War activism, and contemporary wave of feminist efforts.


In 1973, Billops purchased her loft on Broadway in the burgeoning arts neighborhood of SoHo. The space—soon to be known as the legendary Hatch-Billops Loft—was a key gathering space and salon for Black intellectuals and artists, often hosting symposia, teach-ins, protests, and exhibitions of global artists of color.

A frequent visitor—and neighbor—of the loft, Browne was actively creating and existing in intersectional spaces before the term was even popularized; she continuously bridged the gap between feminist and Civil Rights spaces, founding the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition and Where We At?. Browne was a frequent contributor and occasional editor of Heresies, a publication and collective of feminist artists co-founded by Stevens, and had numerous exhibitions at SOHO20.

In 1973, Stevens became a founding member of SOHO20, a touchstone feminist gallery that promoted the traditionally underrepresented art of women artists. Throughout their careers, Browne and Billops would both participate in this space; Browne was the subject of six solo exhibitions at the gallery while Billops had her first show there in 1981. 3 years later, Stevens established Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics before co-founding Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics in the mid-80s. 

For further reading:

The exhibition catalogue for Friends and Agitators: Emma Amos, Camille Billops, Vivian Browne and May Stevens, 1965 – 1993 (2020), an exhibition that traced the personal and professional intersections of the three celebrated New York artists on view, as well as Emma Amos.