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Big Daddy Paper Doll

© May Stevens. Courtesy of the artist and Ryan Lee, New York. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

Big Daddy Paper Doll

Artist: May Stevens (Born in Boston, Massachusettes, 1924–2019)
Culture: American
Date: 1971
Medium: Screenprint on paper
Image: 21 x 35 inches (53.3 x 88.9 cm)
Sheet: 29 x 43 inches (73.7 x 109.2 cm)
Mat: 31 x 44 inches (78.7 x 111.8 cm)
State: 20
Edition: 75
Classification: Print
Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Dorsky
Label Text:May Stevens was deeply active in second-wave feminist and Vietnam anti-war movements, and a major proponent of socially engaged art. Developed in the late 1960s, Stevens’ Big Daddy character was a strong presence in her prints, drawings, and paintings for over a decade. The figure represents white male power systems, targets of Stevens’ fervent criticism of contemporary society in the United States, and a vehicle for mocking America’s aggressive, chauvinistic, and racist tendencies. She identified Big Daddy as

…a relative of mine who represented to me an authoritarian
and closed attitude towards the world. It was a middle-
American attitude towards culture, towards politics, towards
black people, and towards Jews. He was a person who had
stopped thinking when he was twenty and hadn’t opened his
mind to anything since.

Placed in the image’s center, Big Daddy sits, large and naked, with a bulldog on his lap. To his sides are interchangeable outfits: an executioner, soldier, policeman, and butcher. With an idiotic smirk and a phallic, or missile-like head, this ignorant “paper doll” can play any of the above roles simply by dressing the part. Stevens, however, ironically diffuses Big Daddy’s authority by rendering his costumes empty and useless. By presenting him as a piece in a game traditionally played by young children, the artist suggests the ultimate senselessness and futility of his power.

Object number: 1973.29.1