Mia Merlin discusses 49 Portraits…
Q: How and why did you decide to do this for the families of the Orlando shooting victims?
A: I was inspired by a similar project done on a much smaller scale for the victims of the Charleston Emmanuel AME church attacks. When I heard about it, I wished I could have been able to participate. After the Pulse attacks, as well as other violence occurring in this country and around the world, I felt so helpless and overwhelmed like so many of us, and was searching for a way to do something. Also this attack targeting the LGBTQ community was especially hard to take, as is an attack on any marginalized group already struggling to feel safe and acknowledged for their full humanity. And I knew finding 49 artists to do portrait might be difficult but I thought that if I could pull it off it would be incredibly powerful and meaningful. The project touches on all the most important things to me: having the courage to move towards pain as a way to heal and bring people together, and the need for art (representational art in particular) to be made and seen to help us process our lives and find beauty in the midst of tragedy.
Q: Why did you choose to do portraits rather than some other medium?
A: I am a visual artist, and I made a portrait too. I love painting portraits. When you paint/draw you look at things with an attention and care that you would never otherwise do. So there is an experience for the artist of really lovingly taking in a face and considering a life. So making the portrait for me and for each artist involved is a way of feeling and reckoning with the loss. And putting love into the void left by horror and tragedy. And it offers that same gift to all the viewers, which is so clear because we all respond so differently to these portraits than the snapshots that were publicly shared. I also love the way the portraits transcend politics.
Q: How will you get these portraits to the families?
A: Right now the plan is to exhibit the work in Orlando at a the Terrace Gallery in City Hall in the Winter/Spring and then present the work to the families near the anniversary of the attacks. I have gotten the help of the office of the Mayor of Orlando and a LGBT community center there as well to reach the families.
Q: When do you think you will be finished with this project?
A: I have nearly all the portraits, I believe I am just short a few at this point so hopefully in the next couple of weeks or so.
Q: How do you hope this will help the victims’ families?
A: I hope they feel all the love that went into them and that they are first deeply moved by the efforts of a stranger for them. Then I hope that for the rest of their life they feel the presence of their loved one in the piece. But I think the impact of the work and the project is not just for the family and friends of those lost, but for anyone and everyone who needs it. We are creating a permanent website gallery for the portraits as well.