‘I Can’t Breathe’: A Reflection on Experiencing the Art of Shaun Leonardo ’01

Shaun El C. Leonardo ’01

A writer recently participated in Shaun Leonardo’s participatory workshop and performance, “I Can’t Breathe,” describing his experiences for the art site Hyperallergic. Leonardo graduated from Bowdoin in 2001.

Seth Rodney writes that “I Can’t Breathe” is both a kind of self-defense class and a way to connect with one’s own vulnerability as a person of color. The performance/workshop ended with a discussion about race and policing.

“Leonardo’s aim seemed to be to engage people in a way that gave them ideological defense tools as well as physical ones,” Rodney says.

Leonardo first staged “I Can’t Breathe” after Eric Garner was strangled by New York City police, and has performed it roughly a dozen times at art galleries, an art fair, high schools, community centers, and universities, Rodney reports.

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