Franklin Furnace Fund Recipients 2015-16

(Brooklyn, NY)Shaun Leonardo

Project Description

“I Can't Breathe” is a public-participatory workshop and performance that takes the form of a self-defense class. Participants learn a range of self-defense technique - from purely pacifist, self-protective maneuvers (including how one may relieve the pressure of a chokehold) to more overt, defensive strategies. Seamlessly transitioning into a performative action, the artist then recites a script inspired by Nina Simone, while simultaneously giving participants verbal cues to re-enact the self-defense techniques just learned. The overall, impromptu composition of defensive actions thus creates a reflection and meditation on our community's legacy of self-preservation, and continued desire/need/fight to protect and survive.


Shaun Leonardo is a multidisciplinary artist who uses modes of self-portraiture as a means to convey the complexities of masculine identity and question preconceived notions of manhood. The portraits take the form of cutout paintings, drawings, and sculptures, brought to life through performance. Leonardo received his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and has received awards from Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; The New York Studio School; Lower Manhattan Cultural Council; Art Matters; New York Foundation for the Arts; McColl Center for Visual Art; Franklin Furnace; and Jerome Foundation. His work has been presented in galleries and institutions, nationally and internationally, and was recently featured in the exhibitions “Crossing Brooklyn” at the Brooklyn Museum, “Radical Presence” at Studio Museum in Harlem, and “Between History and the Body” at 8th Floor Gallery.

Photo: I Can't Breathe - performance still, Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, NY, 2/22/15.