Our apology to artist Shaun Leonardo

June 7, 2020

updated on June 13, 2020

We are posting here an apology in addition to the statement of apology we offered to artist Shaun Leonardo in March 2020 referencing the cancellation of his exhibition The Breath of Empty Space which was to be shown in moCa's summer season. I would like to acknowledge our failure in working through the challenges this exhibition presented together with Mr. Leonardo. In doing so, we failed the artist, we breached his trust, and we failed ourselves. We received feedback from a few voices in the activist community who advised that this presentation at moCa could stir trauma, leading to pain and harm. This was echoed by moCa staff members. In responding to this feedback, regretfully we did not engage Mr. Leonardo in creating space for dialogue and debate. We did not expand the conversation within our community. We prevented ourselves and our community from having the difficult and urgent conversations that contemporary art seeks to advance. Our actions impacted Mr. Leonardo, the curator John Chaich, and many others negatively. We are sorry. As has been made clear these past weeks, the time has come to confront racism with unflinching honesty. The work of anti-racism involves taking responsibility and supporting risk. We did not do this. We failed. We are learning now. We do not shy away from this failure. We are resolved to do better and to be held accountable for our needed improvement. 

Jill Snyder, Kohl Executive Director, moCa Cleveland


Our apology sent to Shaun Leonardo

moCa's apology to Shaun Leonardo

Shaun Leonardo's note, posted with permission

June 6, 2020

The Breath of Empty Space

Yesterday would have been the opening of The Breath of Empty Space at Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. Amid this seemingly impossible moment we are living through, I've struggled with speaking about the exhibition at all. But given the content of the work, I feel it is important to share that the exhibition was not canceled due to the Museum's closure during the dangers of covid-19. Below, please read the statement from moCa.

I must make it clear that I was never given the opportunity to be included in outreach, and therefore, never had a moment to engage any community member regarding the show. What has become evident to me since the receipt of this letter, is that after grave mishandling of communication regarding the exhibition, institutional white fragility led to an act of censorship.

I wish to say to my community of friends and supporters receiving this email that I deeply believe in my practice. I try to remember the many nuanced and complex conversations that the work elicited while at MICA Baltimore, as reflected in this beautiful review by Louis Block in The Brooklyn Rail. And while I lament missing the opportunity to engage folks in Cleveland, I know there is much more needed from me and much more to come. If what we are bearing witness to in this current unveiling of systemic violence against black citizens, reminds us of anything, it is that as a country we have yet to reckon with the entrenched racism that I argue can only truly be located in people's bodies and psyches.

So for now, I will tend to my family while I quietly build with the integrity I hold for myself and the possibilities I seek in my work to break white silence and force us, collectively, into a difficult, yet necessary process of interrogation.

Sincerely and always... Black Lives Matter



The Breath of Empty Space exhibition page