Monday, June 12, 2017

On the First Anniversary of the Pulse Gay Nightclub Massacre, Orlando Martyrs Commemorated in Artist Tony O'Connell's “Triptych for the 49”

Above: "Triptych for the 49" by Tony O’Connell.

The Wild Reed's 2017 Queer Appreciation series continues with the highlighting of a special work of art commemorating the "Orlando martyrs," the 49 people shot to death a year ago today at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The incident also saw over 50 people injured. The Pulse nightclub site is now in the process of being made into a permanent memorial and museum.

Right: Commemorating the Orlando shooting victims: Johnpaul Vazquez, right, and his boyfriend Yazan Sale, sit by Lake Eola, in downtown Orlando. (Photo: Carolyn Cole/Getty Images)

The June 12, 2016 shooting at Pulse is the deadliest by a single shooter in U.S. history, and the second deadliest in world history, after the 2011 Norway attacks. The incident is also recognized as the deadliest attack on LGBT people in United States history and the worst mass killing of LGBT people in the west since the Holocaust.

The artwork I highlight this evening is by Tony O’Connell (left), and I must acknowledge and thank Kittredge Cherry and her wonderful online resource, Q Spirit, for first highlighting O’Connell's work in her June 8 post, "Orlando Martyrs: Pulse Gay Nightclub Massacre Remembered in New Artwork 'Triptych for the 49'" (Kittredge has previously highlighted the art of O'Connell. See, for example, here and here.)

Writes Kittredge about O'Connell's latest piece:

One of the newest and most spiritually powerful artworks about the Orlando martyrs is “Triptych for the 49,” a mixed media piece by gay artist Tony O’Connell of Liverpool. It is a shrine shaped like three-part altarpiece. The artist is mounting images of each martyr on reclaimed closet doors, along with queer saints Sebastian and Joan of Arc as “wrathful protector saints.”

O’Connell is working to finish it in time for a private showing on the anniversary of the massacre on June 12. A public exhibit is being planned for later this year. The artist will keep posting updates and new photos of “Triptych for the 49” on O’Connell’s Orlando Martyrs Facebook page as he completes and exhibits the work.

The Orlando martyrs speak to society today through Tony O’Connell’s art. “The world has changed very much in my life but Orlando reminds us that we are all still more vulnerable than polite liberal straight society would like to admit. I think every gay person must have been scarred by the massacre because it reminds us again that there is hate specifically directed at us,” he explained to the Jesus in Love Blog at Q Spirit.

In his new creation, O’Connell made haunting digital images with blue haloes inside Gothic window shapes framing the faces of each person who died in the Orlando shooting. He will arrange them in rows on the central panel, flanked by the guardian saints on two hinged panels. Gold leaf ornamentation adds to the air of sanctity. The whole triptych stands almost six feet tall.

The repetition of the format for all 49 faces allows the individuality of each victim shine through. The viewer’s heart and attention are drawn here and there to connect with different souls: the one in the pink shirt, the one with tattoos, the one with the bowtie . . .

Like standard religious icons, they gaze directly into the viewer’s eyes, seeming to invite conversation. Icons are traditionally considered to be “windows to heaven,” and O’Connell’s commemorative altarpiece provides a glimpse into a queer hereafter.

It is no accident that O’Connell made his shrine to the Orlando martyrs out of wood once used as closet doors. “At some level coming out of the closet is always a revolutionary act of courage because each LGBT person knows on whatever level that the choice to come out could invite potential rejection, or violence or even worse,” he said.

Rainbow haloes indicate that the large figures guarding the martyrs are LGBTQ saints: Sebastian Joan of Arc. Sebastian is a favorite theme in O’Connell’s art and spirituality. He re-enacted the saint’s martyrdom with a sculptural Sebastian to condemn violence against LGBTQ people in a 2015 performance art film. It included a “Litany of the Queer Saints.” He may write a new litany for the Orlando martyrs.

Raised Roman Catholic, O’Connell was rejected by the church when he came out as gay in his teens. He has been a practicing Buddhist since 1995. Much of O’Connell’s work deals with affirming the holiness of LGBTQ lives.

To read Kittredge Cherry article highlighting Tony O'Connell's "Triptych for the 49" and other artists' tributes to the Orlando martyrs, click here.

Above and below: Memorials in front of Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
(Photos: John Raoux/AP and Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS/Getty Images)

NEXT: Part III – Tony Enos on Understanding
the Two Spirit Community

Related Off-site Links:
For Those We Lost and Those Who Survived: The Pulse Massacre One Year Later – James Michael Nichols (The Huffington Post, June 10, 2017).
Remembering the Orlando 49Orlando Weekly (June 12, 2017).
One Year On: Orlando's Remarkable Tributes to the 49 Lives Lost in Pulse Shooting – Chloe Sargeant (SBS, June 12, 2017).
Remembering the 49 People Who Died in Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub Attack – Katie Mettler (The Washington Post via TruthDig, June 12, 2017).
Praying for Orlando, One Year Later – Robert Shine (Bondings 2.0, June 12, 2017).
We Prayed For Orlando. Now, Let’s Never Forget Orlando – Marcos Saldivar (The Huffington Post, June 12, 2017).
A Night of Terror, a Year of Racism – Michael Hamar (Michael-In-Norfolk, June 12, 2017).
Gay Pride Celebrations Worldwide to Honor Orlando, One Year After Pulse Nightclub Attack – Jim Farber (, June 1, 2017).
QLatinx Has United Orlando's Queer Latinos in Year Since Pulse Nightclub Shooting – Christopher Cuevas (Mic, June 12, 2017).
Looking Back to the Pulse Shooting Through the Eyes of a Queer Black Muslim – Devyn Springer (Think Progress, June 12, 2017).
One Year After Pulse Massacre in Orlando, FBI Hasn't Publicly Addressed Its Counterterrorism Failures – Trevor Aaronson (The Intercept, June 12, 2017).
One Year On We Remember This Guy Who Saved 70 people in Orlando Shootings. His Name Is Imran YousufIKnowBro, June 12, 2017).
Pulse Survivor Keinon Carter Went From Being Declared Dead at the Hospital to Opening a Center for Black LGBTQ Youth – Monivette Cordeiro (Orlando Weekly, June 7, 2017).
Pulse: The Orlando Shooting and the Intersection of Multiple Violences – Hugo Córdova Quero (Gemrip, June 2016).
A Year After Pulse, We Are More Than Survivors – Audrey Juarez ( via Common Dreams, June 13, 2017).
Pulse Anniversary: Church Plays Wounding Role to LGBT People – John Gehring (National Catholic Reporter via Common Dreams, June 13, 2017).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
"I Pray, I Pray"
Quote of the Day – June 12, 2016
In the WAke of Orlando, Two Powerful Calls for the Catholic Hierarchy to Fully Acknowledge the LGBT Victims of Anti-LGBT Violence
Quote of the Day – June 13, 2017
Multiple Claims Suggest That Orlando Killer Was Also a Victim of Homophobia – His Own
Prayer of the Week – June 19, 2016
Discerning and Embodying Sacred Presence in Times of Violence and Strife
The Ashes of Our Martyrs
"I Will Dance"


lias said...

I just wanted to thank you for including my work here. I discovered this post by accident when looking for a link to send to a student. The attack seemed to me to be a turning point when the world started to go mad and nothing really has felt normal since it so I had no choice but to make a visual response to it. I appreciate your help in discussing this work. Solidarity from Liverpool


Michael J. Bayly said...

You're welcome, Tony. . . . And thank YOU for creating such a beautiful and sacred work of art.