Artist Ekene Ijeoma is syncing communities through breathing techniques.

By Madeline Brik.

The past year has been filled with curve balls for many, to say the least. Everyone could use a breath of fresh air, which is what the professor and artist Ekene Ijeoma aims to offer with his outdoor installation “Breathing Pavilion.” Located in Downtown Brooklyn, the sanctuary welcomes the public to interact with the space through group reflection and promotes communal mediation with accompanying rhythm beats.

Meditation and deep breathing can work as a natural antidote to stress, depression, and anxiety. Mindfulness has grown in popularity in recent months thanks to social media, as exemplified by guided apps like Headspace. Collective times of struggle offer an opportunity for many to explore slower forms of stress relief. Ijeoma is taking this interest in forming deeper connections with ourselves and others by creating a public space to sit down and breathe.

The pavilion is a large circle filled with marble chips with light-up pillars that provide an orange hue. Ijeoma created the installation in partnership with the Van Alen Institute, an organization committed to equitable city infrastructure. Through inclusive design, the institute takes on projects that can lead to positive change.

Connecting in public spaces has become the new norm throughout the pandemic lockdowns, as inside spaces have been closed. There is a new sense of appreciation for local walk paths and open parks. “We all spent the year being separated, so having an outdoor space that’s specifically designed for a communal gathering seems important in this moment particularly,” said Ijeoma over email to Mission

Ijeoma is currently teaching a year-long MIT course that explores Black life through various perspectives. “It’s organized into topics around living while Black from birth to death, including birthing, breathing, sleeping, eating, walking, learning, voting, driving, working, and loving while Black,” he explained.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has exposed systems of injustice. 2020 was the year many racial and political protesters took to the streets in mass numbers to demand justice after many painful news cycles captured the nation. In response to the pain and struggles Black communities have faced, Ijeoma created the pavilion to unite people through stillness.

Accompanying the meditation are musical performances that provide additional rhythm to the inhale, exhale experience. From March to May, each guided meditation has a different instrument, from saxophone to vibraphones. Ijeoma explained that the choice in performance was based on improvisational and intergenerational artistry.

The world may be out of our control, but how we breathe, think, and feel is up to us. “By offering a public space for meditation and stillness, I wanted to create more opportunities for people to pause and reflect in between their everyday activities,” said Ijeoma.

Image credit: Kris Graves