On the night of Saturday, June 11, 2016, Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people, injuring 53, and irrevocably changing the lives of countless more. Most of the victims were young LGBTQ Latinos and Latinas. This was the largest mass shooting in U.S. history since the Massacre at Wounded Knee — an extremely misguided act of violence perpetrated by a person who was also in a lot of pain. The internet is currently raging with theories and opinions as details slowly come forth and the FBI continues its investigation. In the meantime, dozens of massive public memorial events have occurred, and the art world has spoken out.
On June 12, the Tony Awards followed immediately on the heels the shooting. The ceremony was dedicated to the victims of the tragedy and many tributes were uttered, including Barbara Streisand’s reminder that, “Art can entertain us and, at times like these, console us.”
Art can also activate, enrage and inform us. On top of this West Hollywood home, ChadMichael Morrisette created an installation called “No One Is Safe,” using 50 mannequins to represent the 50 people who were killed (including the shooter). When Morrisette posted this image to Instagram some people found it tasteless, while others felt it was bold, moving and needed.
Artist Hank Willis Thomas lent his voice to the aftermath of the tragedy by posting on Instagram his work in progress, “Thirteen Thousand, Four Hundred and Twentynine,” created to honor the victims who died as a result of gun violence in the USA in 2015. The image was accompanied by the hashtag #stopthekilling.
In Toronto, what was originally intended to be a graffiti cover-up project has morphed into a timely and tender memorial. Victoria Barrington commissioned artist Andrea Manica to create a memorial for the 49 people who were gunned down. The result? A rainbow of 49 roses and a dedication “For Orlando June 2016.”
The message of peace and unity arising from the Orlando Tragedy has reached across the world. Indian sand sculptor Sudarsan Pattnaik created a graphic and moving piece that he posted on Facebook on June 13 with the caption, “Tribute to #OrlandoShooting victims through My SandArt at #PuriBeach in India with message ‘OneWorld, OneMessage, EndTerrorism.'”
Recording artist Christine Aguilera has also spoken up about Orlando, releasing a new song, “Change,” in the wake of the shooting. On her website, she writes:
Though there is such heavy sadness I believe that there is much more love in the world than we know. We need to learn to love again, we need to learn that one person does make a difference; we need to keep love in our hearts. As Nelson Mandela once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”