Profile: Vivian E. Browne (1929-1993)

Vivian E. Browne was an American artist. Born in Laurel, Florida, Browne was mostly known for her African-American protest paintings, and linking abstraction to nature. She has received multiple awards for her work, been an activist, professor and a founder of many galleries. According to her mother, Browne died at 64 from bladder cancer.


Vivian Browne was born in Laurel, Florida, on April 26, 1929. She spent most of her life in New York City and Kern County, California. She received her Bachelor of Science in 1950 from Hunter College, New York, NY and a Master of Fine Arts from Hunter College in 1959. Her early painting career was fostered by a scholarship from the New School for Social Research, and a Huntington Hartford Foundation fellowship in 1964 and a fellowship with the MacDowell Colony.

She was invested in her travels across Europe and Africa, also studying at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria in 1972. Browne worked at Rutgers University in Newark from 1971 to 1992 as a faculty member of the Arts and Sciences department while continuing as an artist in her own right with shows across the country.


Browne had multiple solo exhibitions at SoHo 20 Gallery during her lifetime, as well as exhibitions at the Bronx Museum, University of California, Santa Cruz and Western Michigan University. She also showed at MoMA PS1’s space in the Clocktower Gallery in 1986.

In 2017, Browne was posthumously included in the exhibition We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85, organized by the Brooklyn Museum. In 2018, her work was also shown in Acts of Art and Rebuttal in 1971, an exhibition at Hunter College that revisited the 1971 exhibition Rebuttal to the Whitney Museum Exhibition: Black Artists in Rebuttal organized by members of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition to protest the Whitney Museum’s refusal to appoint a Black curator for their survey Contemporary Black Artists in America. Browne had been considered for the Whitney’s exhibition but was ultimately not included.


Many of Browne’s works, particularly those from the 1960s, showcase her dissatisfaction with the struggles of growing up as a disenfranchised black woman. “Black art is political. If it’s not political, it’s not black art”. While she fought for equality, she was not optimistic about attitudes changing soon, and self categorized her look at art into two categories. “When I am political, I am painting as a black or as a woman or both. Otherwise, I am just a member of the human race.” She taught the History of Black Art at Rutgers University, and served as chair of the department from 1975 to 1978.

Browne contributed to, and served as an advisor to, HERESIES: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, including serving on the editorial collective for issue #15, Racism is the Issue.

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