Less than two weeks after the nation’s largest mass shooting took place at an Orlando gay nightclub, Pedro AMOS was approached by an old friend to commission an art piece for the victims of the attack.
The friend in question was Roxana Rauseo, manager of the Wynwood Yard, and the aim of the project was to memorialize the identities of those lost on June 12th by creating a giant public mural located on the back wall of O Cinema’s building.
AMOS, whose artist owned and operated company had recently been named The Miami’s New Times best graffiti guide, called upon colleagues Luis Valle and Jona Cerwinske to aid in the mural’s initial construction.
All three of them donated their free time in order to finish the painting as soon as possible, a process that meant trading alternating shifts amid the oppressive Florida heat with little supervision and a lot of donated paint.
The mural itself, scenically located across from the The Wynwood Yard’s own urban garden, depicts the full names of every person killed during the night of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting.
Those names, 49 in total, were purposely rendered in the same six colors that typically make up the rainbow LGBT flag.
AMOS describes the experience of receiving the notecards from Rauseo bearing the identities of the dead, later admitting he still cannot bring himself to throw the papers away even after the project had already finished.
“I was all like work, work, work and trying to organize everyone and put everything together but [then] she gave me all these cards and it was really heavy to get all that, it really made it all real. And then you’ll be painting [a name] and this girl would come and say ‘Oh my god, my mother worked with him.”’
Construction of the mural was often marred by inclement weather and a host of technical mishaps, eventually stalling completion of the painting an extra four days over what was initially scheduled.
Problems with a donated forklift meant that Valle had to fill in a majority of a giant, multicolored heart using only a paint roller and a very sore back (his efforts were later compensated with a complementary massage at The Standard).
Regardless of the conditions, many locals still stopped to gather on Thursday night and hold a prayer vigil for those lost in the Pulse shooting, even bringing bouquets of flowers and lighting candles in order to honor the dead.
“I was up on a ladder and I’m painting and everybody came around during the vigil and I had my back turned. I turned around and I realized everybody was there with their cameras and it was a moment that just kind of hit me, you know?” Valle said.
The Nicaraguan-born artist had previously painted a memorial piece in New York as part of a fundraising effort for a deceased person, but had never attempted anything on this particular scale before the events in Orlando occurred.
The commemorative mural comes as a result of the devastating mass shooting that took place in in Central Florida earlier this month, one that resulted in the collective deaths and injuries of 102 individuals when a lone shooter, Omar Mateen, opened fire inside of a popular nightclub.
“I thought it was bigger than an LGBT community problem. I thought it was a world problem. I thought it was a failure on behalf of all humans. It’s disgusting and it rocks everyone, gay straight Latino, black, white, to their core. It’s just a terrible scenario.” AMOS said at one point, alluding to a speech he gave to expectant attendees on the night of the Wynwood vigil.
Maybe so, but both the location of the attack as well as the hateful rhetoric spouted by its perpetrator would suggest otherwise.
LGBT activists and civilians alike have fought for decades to create safe spaces within the queer community.
For better or worse, their struggles have always been the subject of punditry and social scrutiny, a fact further evidenced by the controversy surrounding the recent reactions that conservative Florida legislators maintained in the wake of the Pulse shooting.
It’s not surprising that the deaths of these individuals would be politicized in the wake of this tragedy, not when we know that discriminatory laws already politicized many aspects of their lives to begin with.
Still, if there’s anything to glean from the memorial in question it’s the cathartic role, however modest, that public art can play in the wake of these tragedies.
The swiftness with which the different facets of Wynwood life responded to the events in Orlando reflects the collective empathy expressed by local entrepreneurs, artists, managers, and volunteers for the LGBT community as a whole.
More importantly, these kinds of displays have the potential to galvanize residents against incidents of homophobia, pressuring otherwise reluctant allies to openly express support. It’s also viscerally, laudably beautiful to look at, a kaleidoscope of vibrant images framed by the urban greenery surrounding it.
“As artists, we have the ability to make a difference and [either] do something about this or at least put a voice out there.” Valle said at one point during the interview, “It’s the least we can do for something so horrible.”
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