In the last year, West Orange artists have created a variety of pieces in memory of the 49 people who died in the Pulse nightclub shooting
Jene Omens never will forget the night he stood in a sea of hundreds in downtown Orlando listening to the sounds of sorrow and heartbreak.
“What ripped into me the most was being amongst thousands of people saying good bye,” he said. “I remember the sun setting into night followed by the ringing of the church bell, not once, but 49 times. The sound of each gong reverberating through downtown Orlando symbolized the release of each of the 49 souls to a spiritual place.”
It was a moment - a day - that Omens took back to his studio to capture in his art. And he wasn’t alone.
Over the last 12 months since the shooting at Pulse nightclub, artists across West Orange have poured their emotional sorrow into their work.
“I always do a painting after a tragedy,” said Winter Garden painter Patrick Noze. “So for Pulse, the emotion came naturally.”
Although Noze had no personal ties to any of the 49 victims, his brother is gay.
“I see it as a human tragedy,” he said. “I live in a community where it’s open, so you know these people much more than when I was growing up. They’re human beings, and you love them.”
As more artists began creating Pulse-related art, the curator at the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park took notice.
“I kept getting phone calls from artists who wanted to do something,” curator Rachel Frisby said.
In response, Frisby decided to host a summer-long exhibition at the museum to commemorate Pulse, calling it Summer of Love: Reflections on Pulse.
“It really started with artists wanting a voice,” she said.
More than 150 artists from across the United States, even some from other countries, submitted artwork to the gallery. In the end, about 60 were accepted for the exhibition, with more than half of the featured work from Florida artists.
“They floored me,” Frisby said about the submitted work. “This is a celebration of love.”
For Winter Garden artist Arlene Friberg-Vivaldi, creating a piece for the exhibit was a difficult decision.
“I wasn’t keen on doing it because it was really sad,” she said. “I managed to stay away from the story when it was happening because it was just too deep. I was just overwhelmed by that number (49).”
When she finally decided to enter a piece, she focused her creation on the 49 victims, creating a single pane of glass depicting a dancing person for each one.
“I wanted to view it from its enormity by the number of frames,” Friberg-Vivaldi said. “I wanted people to look at it and say, ‘This is what hate looks like - it takes the lives of individuals.’ It’s almost like screaming, ‘Look at this this. This is bad. This is tearing us apart.’”
In the case of Windermere resident Denisse Berlingeri, when she sat down to create a mosaic sculpture for the exhibition, she knew she wanted it to convey the beauty of love.
“(The sculpture) is a couple, but I didn’t identify them as a man and man or a woman and woman or a man and woman,” she said. “People can interpret it as they want. It’s true love, and it’s infinite because I tried to make the arms the symbol of infinity love.”
In addition to submitting her sculpture to the museum’s exhibition, Berlingeri also became involved in Orlando Traveling Memorial that features a 100-foot mural that pays tribute to the 49 victims.
“Even though I didn’t know any of the victims, it felt like I knew them because I’m Puerto Rican, and some of the victims were Puerto Rican,” she said. “It’s a way to demonstrate solidarity with them.”
As Omens contemplated what to create to commemorate Pulse, he recalled a sculpture that he had scrapped a while back.
“The first version wasn’t working, but then I went to the vigil, and it just clicked,” he said.
His bronze sculpture, “Love’s Release” sits in the corner of the exhibit at the Albin Polasek Museum. It depicts two figures kissing, one on the ground and one in the air. A small rainbow flag is grasped in the hand of the one left behind.
“‘Love’s Release’ is an expression of a goodbye and a release of the human spirit with one last kiss,” Omens said. “(The flag shows) he’s not alone. There’s unity.”
Contact Brittany Gaines at [email protected].