When Joey Roulette heard of the tragedy that struck Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016, his impulse was to respond through art.
Roulette, a senior studying political science at the University of Central Florida, is a contributing photojournalist at Orlando Weekly. Nearly a year ago, in the aftermath of the shootings that killed 49 people, he put his craft to work to document the dark time that struck Orlando.
His photos ranged from press briefings to vigils around the city for weeks to follow. One of his photos, taken from the roof of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, is of hundreds of people who gathered for a vigil on the lawn in front of the arts center on June 13.
“You would think when you see a large crowd in the photo that it must have been loud,” he said. “In reality, it was silent. You could only hear bells ringing 49 times for each life taken, and Interstate 4 in the distance.”
That photo and more will be part of “Resilience: Remembering Pulse” that is coming June 8-30 to the UCF Art Gallery in the Visual Arts Building. An opening ceremony, including remarks from Pulse nightclub owner Barbara Poma, will be 4-6 p.m. June 8.
The gallery is part of Citizen Curator of Central Florida, an effort to engage the community with local museums, libraries and archives. Work from 22 local artists, plus work from organizations such as the Orlando Modern Quilt Guild and the GLBT History Museum of Central Florida, will be featured in the gallery.
“Resilience: Remembering Pulse” is the product of UCF earning a nearly $25,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to participate in Citizen Curator of Central Florida. UCF applied for the grant before the tragedy at Pulse nightclub.
“When Pulse happened, we knew we wanted to do something to commemorate it,” said Keri Watson, curator of the gallery and assistant professor of art history. “The purpose of the grant was to increase community outreach and involvement, and we felt like this was a way to do both.”
More than 80 pieces have been submitted, including photographs, paintings, quilts and a replica of the angel wings that were used by the Angel Action Wings project to block protests at victims’ funerals. The gallery also will be archived online by UCF’s Regional Initiative for Collecting the History, Experiences and Stories of Central Florida, and by the Citizen Curator Project of Central Florida.
“Orlando was a safe space for me to come out when I was in my late teens and early 20s,” said Cassi Alexandra, a UCF alumna and photographer whose portraits of Pulse survivors, family and community supporters and their stories will be included in “Resilience: Remembering Pulse.” “Photography has healed myself in many ways during this time, and I hope it helps the people I’ve photographed and helps educate the public.”
Among the art pieces also will be “The Lines That Join Us,” a photographic collection and narrative of people who got tattoos to commemorate the victims of Pulse. Photographer Carrie Moran, user-engagement librarian at the John C. Hitt Library, got the idea for the project while reflecting on her own Pulse tattoo she got in July 2016.
“I remember being in the car and catching a glimpse of my tattoo and thinking it would be great to get portraits of other people with their tattoos,” she said. “Several tattoo parlors created designs specific to Pulse and donated all the proceeds. That’s what I liked about the tattoos. I knew there had to be thousands of people.”
Moran heard from 150 people in just three days who were willing to participate in her project. Participants range from Pulse survivors and their families, to those who lost a loved one that night, to those who weren’t there but felt Pulse was a safe space for them.
“I woke up out of town that day and had to call and text a bunch of people to make sure they were alive,” said Moran. “I wanted something to capture that feeling and sense of community that came after. It made me feel like Orlando was my home for the first time.”
For more from the artists and a look at some of their work, see here.