“PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies” is a series made to honor and commemorate–-with a monoprint–-each of the 49 people massacred at the LQBTQ PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016. I began this series in early July of that year, and I completed the 49th print in early October 2016. This exhibit addresses not only the loss, the grief and the aftermath of such a tragic event, but also makes reference to the current issues of gun violence, homophobia, Hispanophobia, violence against people of color and the transgender community, and LGBTQ rights.
When I first heard the news about the massacre at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida early on June 13th, I was in shock. The largest massacre—at the time—had just happened at a gay bar. This news stopped me cold. For the LGBTQ community, a queer bar or nightclub is place of sanctuary. It is sacred, safe space for us. It is akin to this mass shooting happening in a church, temple, or mosque. I struggled to put what I was feeling into words. Although I did not know any of the victims personally, I felt an overwhelming sense of anger followed by a broad feeling of loss and an almost metaphysical sadness that this had happened to the LGBTQ community; that it had happened inside what was supposed to be a safe, sacred queer space; and that it had happened to a minority within a minority, as it was Latin night at PULSE Nightclub.
After about a week of pondering what had happened, I could not find adequate words to express what I was feeling. I came to the conclusion that anything I had to say would be best conveyed visually through my art, and that I would work through all that I was thinking and feeling in my studio. I decided I would speak through my print work by creating a series of 49 monoprints to honor the 49 victims whose lives had been lost. The monoprints are not stand-ins for the actual victims, but more a visual narrative or visual poem made up of 49 elegies that attempt to communicate what happened to the victims of the PULSE Nightclub massacre on June 12, 2016 and its aftermath, as the entire LGBTQ community grappled with it both locally and nationally. In modern times, the elegy is written not out of a personal sense of grief, but out of a broader feeling of metaphysical sadness and loss, and it has often been used to elegize a group. The classic elegy has 3 parts. It begins with a lament of grief and sorrow, a middle section of praise and admiration for the deceased, and it ends with a section that consoles and brings solace to the living. I felt that this poetic form worked well with what I had been thinking I would create in my studio. I used the elegy form as a framework and theme for the 49 monoprints, and I kept this in mind as I made them—some of the prints lament, some celebrate, and some attempt to console.
Throughout the series, I use symbols that are personal to me and my experience as a gay man, and I combine them with other cultural and spiritual iconography that are more universally understood to create the 49 visual elegies or poems. I use the anatomical figure to represent the 49 victims—including 4 women. The robin acts as a symbol of compassion, and the crow represents the souls of the deceased, as well as the queer community. (Crows are very smart and social, and they breed cooperatively. They are physically beautiful with inky black opalescent feathers. They have great memory, learn from their mistakes, recognize human faces, and pass along knowledge to the next generation. Although they are universally considered to be the sign of a bad omen, they also represent thought and memory, and a different kind of consciousness. They are attracted to and love to collect anything shiny or sparkly—old jewelry, broken glass, scraps of metal. Because of these qualities, I figure them as queer birds. Also, a group of crows is called a murder.) The monoprints also incorporate nests, eggs, disco balls, rainbow flags, glitter, pansies & fruit, the colors of Florida & the beach, as well as iconography from the latin community—as many of the victims were Puerto Rican-Americans and Cuban-Amercians. The length of the series allowed me to look at the event through a number of different lenses and to consider what it was like from different points of view. I leave it up to the viewer to interpret the symbols and create their own personal narrative or visual poem.
The 49 mixed media monoprints in this series combine woodcut, collage, digital images from photographs and scans, stencil, spray enamel, glitter, colored pencil, art paper, gift wrap paper, and alcohol gel transfer decals. Each print measures 28″h x 20″w on Arches 88.