Self-defense performance art: Shaun Leonardo's "I Can't Breathe"

Late last year, Shaun Leonardo reprised his art project called "I Can't Breathe." Audience members are paired up and taken through a series of self-defense instructions. It culminates with audience members put in chokeholds by their partners, where they learn that any defensive moves to keep their airways open can be classified as resisting arrest.

I Can't Breathe is a public-participatory workshop and performance that will take the form of a self-defense class. Over the course of a half hour, participants will 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. (Participants will not learn offensive strikes or moves.)

Participants will then be placed and paired off in a staggered arrangement. With certain cues given by the artist, each pair will enact the self-defense technique just learned, alternating in the role of the aggressor. As the artist recites a script inspired by Nina Simone, each pair will elect which action to take solely based on how he or she internalizes the words' meaning.

Shaun Leonardo "I Can't Breathe" - Self Defense Workshop (YouTube via Cooper Union)