Vanessa Lawrence, “I Can’t Breathe, Marcelino Sambe, nine stilled moments”

“I Can’t Breathe, Marcelino Sambe, nine stilled moments”, drawing, 2020.
Detail of “I Can’t Breathe, Marcelino Sambe, nine stilled moments”, drawing, 2020.
Detail of “I Can’t Breathe, Marcelino Sambe, nine stilled moments”, drawing, 2020.

Materials: charcoal on cartridge paper.

Dimensions: 126cm x 178.2cm x 5cm

Learn more about Vanessa Lawrence at

Artist’s comment: My work was inspired by a filmed piece of choreography by Portuguese born Londoner, Principal Dancer at The Royal Ballet, Marcelino Sambé. The film & choreography was created in response to the death of George Floyd. It was posted on Instagram via The Royal Opera House, London, on the 1st June 2020, during the UK Covid-19 lockdown and growing Black Lives Matter protest. I started this series on #blackouttuesday, an Instagram based response to the Black Lives Matter protests. I didn’t feel comfortable with posting a black tile image, I wanted to connect and create. I blacked out my A2 cartridge paper with charcoal, then documented the stages of the tonal drawing emerging, drawing from stills of Marcelino Sambé’s choreography. My images started to grow and mount up to create a larger scale work, that focused on layered looking, sustained meditations on held moments; that build narrative. I was introduced to drawing from film at the Royal Drawing School, and extended this practice to drawing from theatre and live performances in long unfurling concertina sketchbooks. As lockdown forced the Royal Opera House & other venues to close, I started looking online to their live-streams to work from. It was through these performances I discovered the work of Marcelino Sambé, and his cultural heritage. Recently, Sambé wrote about his experience returning to Portugal, in these difficult times and reflecting on the knowledge that he had gathered about black history there.: “I can only imagine how sad and painful these lives must have been, but the testimony of the spirit and endurance of these men and women prevailed. Even under such arch circumstances , they were able to create incredible art, like Samba and Capoeira. Our Journey towards equality is far from over and it can look quite daunting, but we must look back to understand what we are made of… We are resilient, we are athletic, we are powerful, we are artistic!! It’s in our blood!”. His original performance can be seen on his Instagram account @marcisambe.