Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space
January 21, 2021 - May 30, 2021

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Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space presents drawings by the Brooklyn-based artist that critique how mediated images of systemic violence against Black and Brown young men in contemporary American history have shaped our fear, empathy, and perception. Created between 2014 and 2019, the works trace high profile stories of lives ended or forever altered by systems of law enforcement from the 1970s to today.

 

Leonardo encourages a new and nuanced way of looking at the content—and ourselves. Through his intimate drawings based on images widely circulated in popular media, the artist calls on the additive nature of drawing to explore the reductive nature of memory, examining how time and circulation affect what is recalled, forgotten, or ignored. The use of mirrored tint, blurring, highlight, negative space, and semi-opaque die-cut, redirects the eye in order to question what and how we see while reframing the embodied knowledge we bring to the images before us.

 

A call for empathetic witnessing, The Breath of Empty Space aims to create a space for quiet contemplation. The artist, curator, and The Bronx Museum of the Arts acknowledge the impact that the content may have on viewers. We believe the gallery experience and accompanying programming encourages reflection, conversation, and critique of the systems and issues explored. As we mourn the magnitude of Black and Brown lives lost, we honor the necessary, ongoing work within communities to seek justice. Thank you for your openness, willingness, and presence.

 

This exhibition is organized by independent curator John Chaich and previously traveled to the Maryland Institute College of Art and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

 

Support for this exhibition has been generously provided by SRI Fine Arts Services and the Director’s Circle, the Bronx Museum’s premier support group. 

 

About Shaun Leonardo

 

Shaun Leonardo’s multidisciplinary work negotiates societal expectations of manhood, namely definitions surrounding black and brown masculinities, along with its notions of achievement, collective identity, and experience of failure. His performance practice, anchored by his work in Assembly—a diversion program for court-involved youth at the Brooklyn-based, arts nonprofit Recess—is participatory and invested in a process of embodiment.

 

Leonardo is a Brooklyn-based artist from Queens, New York City. He received his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, is a recipient of support from Creative Capital, Guggenheim Social Practice, Art for Justice, and A Blade of Grass, and was recently profiled in The New York Times and CNN. His work has been featured at The Guggenheim Museum, the High Line, and New Museum, with his current solo exhibition, The Breath of Empty Space, recently presented at the Maryland Institute College of Art and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

 

Starting in 2021, Leonardo joins Recess as Co-Director, helping guide the organization's continuous evolution as an engine of social change.

 

Elcleonardo.com

 

 

About John Chaich

 

John Chaich is an independent curator and designer interested in otherness, materiality, and communication. He has curated a range of group and solo exhibitions including Mixed Messages: A(I)DS, Art, and Words, produced for Visual AIDS at La MaMa Galleria, New York, and Transformer, Washington, DC; Queer Threads: Crafting Identity & Community at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, the Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts, and the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles; Catalina Schliebener: Growing Sideways at the Bureau of General Services Queer Division, NYC and Hache Galleria, Buenos Aires; Vivek Shraya: Trisha at the Ace Hotel New York; Queering the BiblioObject at the Center for Book Arts; and Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space at Maryland Institute College of Art, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and The Bronx Museum of the Arts.

 

Recently, he served as curatorial consultant for the exhibition, T.J. Dedeaux-Norris Presents The Estate of Tameka Jenean Norris at the Figge Museum, Iowa and curated AndreĢ Terrel Jackson: Crowns and Zoe Schlacter: Darn at Transformer and The Corner at Whitman-Walker, DC, as well as related artist lectures in collaboration with The George Washington University Museum/The Textile Museum, and American University Museum. With Todd Oldham, he edited the coffee table book “Queer Threads,” which received the American Library Association’s 2018 Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award.

 

Chaich received his MFA in Communications Design from Pratt Institute, where he is a visiting instructor. 

 

chaichcreative.com 

 

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Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space, El aliento del espacio vacío, presenta dibujos, del artista basado en Brooklyn, que critica cómo las imágenes mediatizadas de la violencia sistémica en contra de jóvenes negros y otras personas de color  en la historia contemporánea de los Estados Unidos han moldeado nuestro miedo, empatía y percepción. Creadas entre el año 2014 y 2019, las obras trazan las historias de alto perfil de las vidas perdidas o alteradas para siempre por los sistemas policíacos desde la década de 1970 hasta hoy en día.

 

Leonardo motiva una mirada nueva y matizada del contenido y—nosotros mismos. A través de estos dibujos íntimos basados en imágenes que han circulado ampliamente en los medios masivos, el artista apela a la naturaleza aditiva del dibujo para explorar la naturaleza reductiva de la memoria, examinando cómo el tiempo y la circulación afectan lo que se recuerda, olvida o ignora. El uso del tinte reflejado, difuminados, resaltados, espacio negativo, y semi opacos troquelados, redirige la mirada para poder cuestionar qué y cómo vemos mientras re-enmarcamos el conocimiento encarnado en el cuerpo cuando tenemos las imágenes frente a nosotros.

 

Al ser una convocatoria a ser testigos empáticos, The Breath of Empty Space intenta crear un espacio para la contemplación silenciosa.  El artista, el curador y el Bronx Museum of the Arts reconocen el impacto que puede tener el contenido en las audiencias. Creemos que la experiencia en la galería y los programas que acompañan la muestra promueven la reflexión, conversación, y crítica de los sistemas y asuntos que se exploran. Mientras estamos de luto por la magnitud de las pérdidas de las vidas Negras y de otras personas de color, honramos el trabajo necesario y constante de las comunidades para que se haga justicia. Gracias por su apertura, voluntad y presencia.

 

Esta muestra es organizada por el curador independiente John Chaich y viajó antes al  Maryland Institute College of Art y Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

 

El apoyo para esta muestra ha sido otorgado generosamente por SRI Fine Arts Services y el Director’s Circle, el grupo principal de apoyo de Bronx Museum.

 
 

Sobre Shaun Leonardo

 

La obra multidisciplinaria de Shaun Leonardo negocia las expectativas sociales de la hombría, es decir, las definiciones alrededor de las masculinidades Negras y no blancas, junto a sus nociones de logro, identidad colectiva y experiencia de fracaso. Su práctica performática, anclada por su trabajo en Assembly—un programa de redirección para juventud involucrada en las cortes, con base en la organización artística sin fines de lucro en Brooklyn Recess—es participativa y dedicada a un proceso de encarnación.


Leonardo es un artista basado en Brooklyn, originalmente de Queens, Nueva York. Recibió su MFA del San Francisco Art Institute, es un beneficiario del apoyo de Creative Capital, Guggenheim Social Practice, Art for Justice, y A Blade of Grass ,y recientemente su trabajo fue presentado en el New York Times y CNN. Su obra ha sido parte de muestras en The Guggenheim Museum, the High Line, y New Museum, y al momento tiene una muestra individual, The Breath of Empty Space, que se presentó recientemente en Maryland Institute College of Art and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.


Empezando en el 2021 Leonardo se unirá como Co-Director de Recess, y ayudará a guiar la evolución continua de la institución como un motor de cambio social.

 

elcleonardo.com

 
 
 

Sobre John Chaich

 

John Chaich es un curador independiente interesado en la alteridad, materialidad y comunicación. Él ha curado una gama amplia de exhibiciones grupales e individuales que incluyen: Mixed Messages: A(I)DS, Art, and Words, producido por Visual AIDS en La MaMa Galleria, Nueva York, y Transformer, Washington, DC; Queer Threads: Crafting Identity & Community en Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Nueva York, the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, the Mills Gallery en the Boston Center for the Arts, y the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles; Catalina Schliebener: Growing Sideways en Bureau of General Services Queer Division, NYC y Hache Galleria, Buenos Aires; Vivek Shraya: Trisha en Ace Hotel New York; Queering the BiblioObject en the Center for Book Arts; y Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space en Maryland Institute College of Art, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, y The Bronx Museum of the Arts. 


Recientemente, participó como consultor curatorial en la exhibición, T.J. Dedeaux-Norris Presents The Estate of Tameka Jenean Norris en Figge Museum, Iowa y fue curador de André Terrel Jackson: Crowns y Zoe Schlacter: Darn at Transformer y The Corner at Whitman-Walker, DC, así como ha participado en conferencias artísticas relacionadas en colaboración con The George Washington University Museum/The Textile Museum, y American University Museum. Con Todd Oldham, editó el libro de mesa “Queer Threads,” que en el  2018 recibió el premio Israel Fishman a la obra de no ficción, de parte de la Asociación de Bibliotecas de Estados Unidos. 

 

Chaich recibió su MFA en comunicación y diseño de Pratt Institute, donde es docente.

 

chaichcreative.com

 

 

Introduction by the Artist (Introducción por el artista)

 

 

Virtual Walkthrough and Public Conversation

Poetic Reponse by Mahogany L. Browne, 4:40

Virtual walkthrough with Shaun Leonardo and curator John Chaich, 7:50

Conversation, 41:40

 

Representing vs. Re-Presenting: Unpacking Methods of Visibility

Poetic Reponse and letter by Jimin Seo

Conversation between Shaun Leonardo, Steve Locke, and Jamel Shabazz, moderated by Holly Block Social Justice Curator Jasmine Wahi

 

 

What Does Art Do For You? A Youth-Centered Conversation about Art and Possibility

Poetic Reponse by Anaïs Duplan

 

Conversation between Shaun Leonardo, members of the Bronx Museum Teen Council, and Recess: Assembly Peer Leaders discussing how the arts help us think and move with and through hope, struggle, and despair.

 

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

 

Art21 Feature

 

On Wednesday, February 3, 2021, Art21 released this video titled "Shaun Leonardo: The Freedom to Move," as part of their "New York Close Up" series.

 

Click HERE to learn more about Shaun Leonardo and his work through this incredible project.

 
 
 
 

The Eulogy (Performance Piece by Shaun Leonardo) 

 

 

The Eulogy (2015 - 2017) recreates a New Orleans Jazz funeral procession to hold space for bodies who no longer physically can. Towering above the audience, Leonardo recites a script that combines his own words, honoring the young Black men whose lives he reflects upon in The Breath of Empty Space, with excerpts from Ralph Ellison's 1952 novel, Invisible Man

 

Invisible Man has served as a historical starting point for this exhibition and an on-going source of inspiration for Shaun Leonardo’s practice. The novel chronicles the travels of its narrator—a young, nameless Black man—as he struggles to psychologically and physically survive the force of structural racism in America. A pivotal point in the novel is the funeral of Brother Tod Clifton, a close friend of the narrator who was killed by a white police officer’s gunfire. Our narrator recites the funeral’s eulogy(1), marking a major transition in his character and psyche.

 

Channeled through Leonardo’s oration, the narrator’s speech sways from passionate admiration to pitiful remembrance, all the while expressing a deep sentiment of regret. Ultimately, our narrator attempts to instill Brother Clifton’s memory in the minds of his public in the hopes of establishing his legacy, but does so with a serious warning. He tells us of a black man “who exists outside of history”—a man who will be forgotten and dismissed, like the countless others, if the memory of him becomes buried as a statistic.

 

In Leonardo’s The Eulogy, in every instance Brother Tod Clifton is named in the speech, the artist has replaced it with the name of a young man of color who was killed by the police in contemporary America: all of whom the artist also honors in work on view in The Breath of Empty Space.

 

The combination of Ellison and Leonardo’s words create a duet between the artists and a choir of generations of Black lives lost to police violence in America, giving voice to the essence of powerlessness and vulnerability evoked by systemic oppression. Whether heard through Leonardo’s impassioned performance of The Eulogy or read here in their full transcript, these words serve as a memorial, a rejection, a challenge, and call to action, all at once.

 


1. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, (New York: Vintage International, 1995), 455-59.

 

Download a transcript of The Eulogy HERE

 

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