Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space

June 5, 2020September 6, 2020

This exhibition was cancelled in March of 2020. We regret that we did not publicly post this statement on our website at the time we issued it to Shaun Leonardo. The decision to cancel the exhibition was made solely by management and we accept the responsibilities for our failure. Criticism should not be leveled at those who shared their concerns. We now are focused on learnings related to holding space for the difficult conversations that contemporary art can sometimes evoke.

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Statement sent to Shaun Leonardo, March 2020

It is with regret that moCa has decided to not move forward with our commitment to present The Breath of Empty Space, a body of drawings by Shaun Leonardo organized by independent curator John Chaich. By revisioning and reframing media representation of victims of violence, the work asks viewers to bear witness to police brutality and criminal injustice against black and brown men and boys. Having worked previously with Mr. Leonardo, we recognize and respect that his work and practice over many years has been to create a path toward insight and change. While our goal was to support the exhibition's fullest realization in Cleveland, we encountered troubling community response that suggested at this time we were not prepared to engage with the lived experiences of pain and trauma that the work evokes. Through active listening, we acknowledge with humility the work we have yet to do. We are committed to deepening a culture of equity and inclusion, one that actively resists bias and oppression of any form.

Taking such an action to not honor our commitment to an artist is anathema to moCa's practice and values. We recognize that this is a breach of trust. We truly regret this outcome and offer our apology to Shaun Leonardo and John Chaich.

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Shaun Leonardo’s exhibition The Breath of Empty Space is a collection of drawings and video by the Brooklyn-based artist that critique how mediated images of systematic oppression and violence against young African American men in contemporary American history have shaped our fear, empathy, and perception. In a series of intimate drawings based on images widely circulated in popular media, Leonardo calls on the additive nature of drawing to address the reductive nature of memory, addressing how time and circulation affect what is recalled, seen, forgotten, or ignored. 
 
In drawings depicting scenes of judicial injustice and police violence, for example, he removes details while highlighting others in white graphite and blurring information. In other portraits and landscapes, he uses highly reflective semi-opaque glass to return the gaze and redirect the eye. Exploring the negative space contained in a frame, Leonardo recalls how racial biases frame the information viewers provide when details are omitted, the wall between artwork and gallery frame is interrupted, and comfort and safety are compromised. Accompanying the drawings is a video installation of Leonardo’s public art performance, The Eulogy (2017), which recreates a New Orleans Jazz Funeral against the spoken words of Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man, holding space for bodies who no longer physically can. Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space is organized by independent curator John Chaich.