Inaction yearns for a critical mass of solidarity

The Richmond Art Gallery’s upcoming exhibition, Inaction by Brendan Fernandes, features the Canadian premiere of the two-channel video Free Fall: for Camera that was created in response to tragic events at the Pulse nightclub in Florida in 2016. Co-produced with the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University, Inaction runs from February 12–April 3.

“Inaction is a sculptural and performance piece,” explains Fernandes. “For me, this exhibition is pointing out the histories of trauma and violence against people of colour.”

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Fernandes grew up in Toronto and is currently based in Chicago. He is an internationally recognized artist who is currently an artist in residence and faculty member in the department of Art, Theory and Practice at Northwestern University.

He describes the film part of the exhibition – Free Fall: for Camera – as a political gesture of resistance and failure, but also about getting up again and moving forward. Although the piece was inspired by tragic events that happened four years ago, he feels they are still relevant today.

“We are in a moment of social uprising. I live in the United States, but I am Canadian and there is still this sense that we are all yearning for a critical mass of solidarity and civil rights,” says Fernandes.

Art generated by trauma

The June 12, 2016 massacre of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida was a huge motivation to bring this exhibition to life. Fernandes believes that dancing is a safe space which was infiltrated and made perilous by this event.

“For me, a person who identifies as a POC and Queer person, that was a struggle and a trauma that I had to deal with,” reveals Fernandes. “Something I felt was safe, was now, not safe, so I took my initial inspiration from that.”

Brendan Fernandes, “Free Fall: for Camera,” 2019, video still.| Photo courtesy of Brendan Fernandes and Monique Meloche, Chicago

Although the Pulse nightclub tragedy was the initial inspiration for the exhibition, events like the pandemic and Black Lives Matter (BLM) has made this piece remain as relevant today as it was four years ago.

“People are dying, and we are not safe, and the virtual space is how we now communicate and interact and though the idea started with Pulse, they also resonate in our current times,” says Fernandes.

Collaboration through art

Minimalist sculptures placed throughout the exhibition space were created in collaboration with the Chicago-based architecture firm Norman Kelley. The sculpture portion of the exhibition is broken down into three parts: Square, Circle and Triangle. All three take inspiration from childhood games.

“The choreography is based on games like Follow the Leader, Hide and Seek and Tag,” says Fernandes. “The dancers are playing these child-like games, but they are games of strategy and they can become social structures, but there is also this kind of playful space.”

In both the video and the installation, the visuals are of bodies collaborating and supporting each other. This is a message that Fernandes feels strongly about.

“In the video you see bodies fall then being picked up and supported by other bodies and I think that we need so much more of that. We have so much healing to go through right now,” says Fernandes. “We need to find solidarity and heal together.”

Art is political

The exhibit is an artistic celebration, but Fernandes hopes people take the political message to heart.

“I hope that (visitors) see the political edge of my work and the questions of solidarity and gaining a more community-based existence. I hope that they see that dance is political, dance can be a material that can have a political edge,” he says.

Fernandes further explains that dance can be beautiful and ephemeral but that it is also powerful and within dance there are notions of endurance and ideas of resistance.

“In my work I want dance to be seen as something that is political and critical and something that can create voice and also community at the same time,” he says.

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