Diane Gistal

The central motif of Respiration (“Breathing”) is a seemingly banal action that has taken on an eminently political status for African communities and people of African descent. Breath and the threat of breathlessness, whether as symbolic or physical facts, loom over Black lives like a sword of Damocles. 

Recent developments in the United States have become a lightning-rod for millions worldwide who have joined in chanting “Black Lives Matter” to express their shared feeling of exasperation. French-speaking Canada is clearly no exception to this global sense of disaffection.

Still, an overwhelming sense of denialism reigns when it comes to the crushing, asphyxiating—annihilating—weight of the violence experienced by a portion of Québec’s population. In the words of filmmaker Raoul Peck, racism continues to fulfill its brutal purpose “even when it hides behind well-intentioned paternalism.” 

Amid this constant upheaval, breathing becomes an act of resistance and resilience, transformed into poetry. 

By focusing precisely on silences, hesitations, sighs, and intakes of breath, Montréal artists Moridja Kitenge Banza, Marie-Laure S. Louis, Siaka S. Traoré and Marie-Danielle Duval at once reveal and sublimate the political power of “breathing.”