Press Releases

"Shaun Leonardo: The Breath Of Empty Space" reframes the visual narrative of systemic violence against black men in America

For the first time shown together, drawings and video by acclaimed NY-based artist reframe, reflect and reconsider fear and empathy.

WHAT: “Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space” exhibition and reception

WHERE: Decker Gallery, Fox Building, 1305 Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore 

WHEN: 6-8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31

DETAILS: The reception kicks off the “Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space” exhibition, which is on view through March 15. Artist and curator John Chaich will be on site. There will also be related public programs to explore public health, media literacy and arts advocacy through voices of scholars and activists rooted in Baltimore.

BALTIMORE — Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is pleased to present “Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space” exhibition, showcasing the work of the Brooklyn-based artist and organized by independent curator John Chaich.

Through drawing and video, Leonardo considers how mediated images of systemic oppression and police violence against black and brown young men in contemporary American history have shaped our fear, empathy and perception. 

In a series of intimate and large-scale drawings based on images widely circulated in popular media,Leonardo calls on the additive nature of drawing to explore the reductive nature of memory and reflect on how time and circulation affect what is recalled, seen, forgotten or ignored.  Using mirrored tints and die-cut glass, the works reframe the information viewers provide when details are omitted, the wall between artwork and gallery frame is interrupted and comfort and safety are compromised.

Throughout the space, details from the drawings are extracted, enhanced and enlarged in vinyl cut-outs on the gallery walls. Just as these images have been oversaturated in their circulation, the tenderness of the hand-drawn is distorted when reproduced in the commercial material at large scale.

Accompanying the drawings is a video installation of Leonardo’s public art performance, The Eulogy (2017), which recreates a New Orleans Jazz Funeral to hold space for bodies who no longer physically can.

This exhibition marks the first time this body of work has been shown together, on loan from institutional and private collectors nationwide. The exhibition travels to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland from June 5-Sept. 6, 2020.

"For these drawings I take some of the most widely disseminated images of police violence, both recent and historical, and make choices that I think will slow down our looking," Leonardo said. "I wish to literally create space in these images, so that we can sit with them differently, even in the hurt. I am intentionally removing or isolating details in order to point to the absence of lives lost and to critical information that would otherwise go overlooked. Ultimately, I want to turn people’s looking into bearing witness."


In Conversation | Shaun Leonardo with Deana Haggag and John Chaich

Arts advocate and MICA alum Deana Haggag (President & CEO, United States Artists, former Executive Director, The Contemporary) joins artist Shaun Leonardo and curator John Chaich for a conversation exploring accountability and efficacy for artists working toward social change and the intentionality and potentiality of medium and media in "The Breath of Empty Space" and the gallery experience from 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13 in Decker Gallery.

Panel Discussion: Systemic Oppression as a Public Health Crisis

Building  on a foundational knowledge of the psychosocial and physiological impact of institutionalized racism on African American communities in Baltimore and beyond, this panel of health, social justice and diversity professionals will present strategies for improving the holistic health of individuals and communities while critically examining the influence of anti-blackness embedded in systems and institutions, from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22 in Decker Gallery.

The discussion will be moderated by artist Shaun Leonardo, and will feature: 

  • JC Faulk, MSOD - Founder, Circles of Voices
  • Keilah Jacques, MSW - Assistant Director, SOURCE program; Instructor, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University
  • Joe Richardson, PhD - Professor, Department of African American Studies University of Maryland College Park; Department of Anthropology and the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Maryland School of Medicine

Gallery Talk: Reading the Empty Space with Kamila Young, PhD

Drawing on her scholarship exploring the impact of race and gender-based trauma on Black identity, media and Black cultural production, Kalima Young, PhD (Assistant Professor, Dept. of Electronic Media and Film, Towson University) will lead a responsive tour examining media saturation, dehumanization and reading practices, as revealed in “Shaun Leonardo: The Breath of Empty Space” From 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12 in Decker Gallery.


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-court-involved youth, is participatory in nature 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. His work has been featured at The Guggenheim Museum, the High Line, Recess and most recently the New Museum, with an upcoming solo exhibition and social practice residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MoCA). Leonardo joined Pratt Institute as the School of Art, Visiting Fellow in fall 2018.


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

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