Breathe; (art) charcoal and colored pencil on gesso board, 24 x 18 in, 2020
Breathe; (music) written by Dr. Imo Nse Imeh; musical arrangement by Bruce Yelle


Jul 12, 2021

My drawing “Breathe” is now part of the permanent collection of the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst.

I was invited by the museum to contribute a work of art to their upcoming For Freedoms exhibition, which is part of the larger “For Freedoms” artistled collective, founded by Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, that investigates how art and artists can inspire and bring insight to political conversations in the United States.

The work commissioned for this exhibition was to encapsulate ideas of freedom and liberation in today’s fractured society. I could think of no concept that is more rudimentary and essential at this time than a Black Man’s desire to simply exist and breathe, without fear, anxiety, worry, shame, regret, explanation, protest, or guard.

“Breathe” is part of my larger project that I am developing titled BENEDICTION (take note of the larger incomplete version of the drawing behind me in the photograph). The drawing is completed with a song that I wrote also titled “Breathe.” portions of the musical score are in the drawing. The work active – it is meant to be performed.

To view the virtual For Freedoms exhibition, which includes the work of 10 contributing artists, follow this link:

About Breathe

As a black man who is profoundly exhausted by the series of events over the past year, I cannot imagine a more essential concept at this time than my freedom to simply exist, and breathe; without fear, anxiety, worry, shame, regret, explanation, protest, or guard—to escape the prism-prisons of skin color labels and the plexiglass walls of structured social categories, that tend to make some of us believe that we are better than others. I want to breathe with abandon. I want to witness my brothers and sisters do the same, without fear of reprisal, physical harm, or murderous violence.

Breathe is a drawing that was created to be performed in song. It is an artistic exhalation of a range of feelings and reflections that I and so many black people have experienced long before an unforeseen pandemic enshrouded the world in darkness. The cover of this plague has only heightened and, in many ways, increased the prevalence of the daily horrors that had already hunted down the people who look like me.

Breathe inhabits the same boundless energy of an air current, operating in a continuum, riding the whispered, hopeful prayers of our ancestors, and then the wails of a black man who would be executed with impunity, his final breath expelled with a uniformed officer’s knee on his neck, and then a colorful vocal run sung over a simple song of three chords, by an artist who has simply had enough.

Breathe is both history and now. It is text and melody. It is the story of our struggle, and a psalm for those who continue to hope.

It is a pulse and a prayer.