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The University of Massachusetts Amherst


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.


Dr. Imo Nse Imeh is a scholar of African Diaspora art, and a practicing, exhibiting studio artist, whose work considers historical and philosophical issues around the black body and cultural identity. He received his doctorate in Art History from Yale University in 2009, with a focus on the cultural aesthetics of the Ibibio people of southeast Nigeria. Presently, he is Associate Professor of Art and Art History at Westfield State University in Massachusetts. Dr. Imeh has made contributions to visual arts discourse with publications, lectures, and provoking studio art projects that interrogate the ways in which black bodies are imagined, installed, ritualized, and transformed. His recent project 17 Years Boy: Images, Sounds, and Words Inspired by the Life and Death of a Young Black Boy—created in response to a spark of racist incidents on his campus—utilizes public performance, visual art, and musical tributes to reimagine Trayvon Martin and other slain black boys, in an effort commemorate them while warning viewers of the horrific consequences of ongoing and evolving systems of racial subjugation in the United States.


Breathe (Respira); carboncillo y lápiz de color sobre tabla degesso; 2020
Breathe (Respira); (música) escrito por Dr. Imo Nse Imeh; arreglo musical por Bruce Yelle; 2020.
Para escuchar la canción de Imo, visite la exhibición virtual We Are For Freedoms en
Como hombre negro exhausto por la serie de eventos del año pasado, en este momento no puedo pensar en nada más esencial que mi libertad para existir y respirar sin miedo, ansiedad, preocupación, vergüenza, arrepentimiento, explicaciones, protestas o vigilancia para escapar de las prisiones prismáticas creadas por las denominaciones de color de piel y las barreras invisibles de las categorías sociales estructuras que hacen a unos sentirse superiores a los demás. Quiero entregarme a respirar con tranquilidad. Quiero ver a mis hermanos y hermanas hacer lo mismo sin temer a represalias, daños físicos o violencia homicida.
Breathe es una pintura hecha para ser canción. Es una exhalación artística de los sentimientos y observaciones experimentados por tanta gente negra como yo mucho antes de que una pandemia imprevista envolviera al mundo en oscuridad. El manto de esta plaga solo ha intensificado y aumentado, de varias maneras, la prevalencia del horror cotidiano que ya daba caza a la gente que se parece a mí.
Breathe habita la misma energía ilimitada de una corriente de aire continua: vuela por rezos de esperanza susurrados por nuestros antepasados; por los lamentos de un hombre negro que expulsa un último respiro antes de su ejecución impune y mientras la rodilla de un policía en uniforme oprime su cuello; por la sencilla y colorida melodía de tres acordes cantada por un artista que no aguanta más, que ha tenido suficiente.
Breathe es historia y presente. Texto y melodía. Relato de nuestra lucha y salmo para quienes siguen a la espera.
Pulso y oración.

Imo Nse Imeh's artwork, "Breathe". A black and white illustration of a person's portrait with their eyes closed and mouth slightly open. Light is coming down on them from the top right corner. Seemingly random ink splotches are spaced around and over the face. Visible in one of the splotches in white pencil are lines and notes from sheet music.

Breathe, 2020
Charcoal and colored pencil on gesso board
24 x 18 in.

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