I can't breathe

October 2021

The artwork 'I can't breathe' is an ambiguous representation of the systemic (systematic) oppression in our (Western) society. The work holds up a mirror to us. We live in an unjust and unequal society. A faulty system. The phrase "I can't breathe" is like a mantra of systemic oppression ending in noise and tragedy. The words are aggressively intertwined like a kind of impenetrable chainmail which makes any dialogue impossible. A chaotic darkness.

The artwork was created by repeating the phrase “I can't breathe” 2020 times. The phrase “I can't breathe” became known worldwide for the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis. Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, died after police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes while he lay handcuffed with his stomach in the street. The event became world news and sparked worldwide protests against racism.

Floyd wasn't the first - or the last - who spoke the words chokingly "I can't breathe", but since his death and subsequent protests, the phrase has taken on a lasting, substantial impact. Floyd's last words did not die with him, but are still heard. Like a persistent, global and noisy echo.

The artwork is about racism in particular and discrimination in general. Making structural and systematic (racial) inequality and mechanisms of exclusion and marginalization visible. Think of current and relevant themes such as: Black Lives Matter, refugees, climate crisis, #MeToo, (bio)diversity, inclusion, but also the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. The sentence “I can't breathe” symbolizes the people who are on a ventilator due to a Covid-19 infection, the earth that is becoming less livable due to the consequences of the climate crisis, and for all people who are oppressed, or excluded on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc. People who cannot be themselves. Who cannot be free.


I can’t breathe, 2021
Fine art inkjet print, framed
Dimensions: 40.5 x 32 x 3.5 cm (white wooden frame), 29.7 x 21 cm (A4 Hahnemühle paper)
Limited edition of 25, signed on verso
Price: €450,- (incl. certificate of authenticity)



Title: I can't breathe
Process: May 2020 to October 2021.
Edition: Limited edition of 25.
Paper: Hahnemühle Photo Rag® Bright White, 310 gsm, 100% cotton, bright white, Matt FineArt, smooth.
Print: Inkjet coating produced with Epson UltraChrome Pro ink from Epson SureColor P20000.
Frame: Wood (white), museum glass (Artglass AR 70), foam spacer. Framed by Maaslands Lijstenmakerij (framing), Maastricht.
Dimensions: 40.5 x 32 x 3.5 cm (frame), 29.7 x 21 cm (A4 print).
Signed: on the back (verso). Paper (September 22, 2021), frame (by date of realization frame, first edition: October 7, 2021).
Photos: Jonathan Wanders.
© Jonathan Wanders