Four years ago, when Mandi Ilene hosted her first body paint jam at SIP, an LGBT bar in Orlando, she had no idea that it would bring her full circle to what her group at BASE Orlando was doing tonight. What started off as just a bunch of friends getting together to practice their artistic skills as painters and models, grew into a family of painters and models from every walk of life.
This year on June 17th, several painters from BASE Orlando had volunteered to paint models for The Center’s “Welcome to the Jungle” fundraiser, aimed at helping the LGBT community. When the events at Pulse happened during the early morning of June 12th, plans for the fundraiser were put on hold so that The Center could focus it’s efforts on coordinating relief work with The City of Orlando and Equality Florida.
Since most of the models and artists had already taken off work and planned to be downtown painting on June 17th, Mandi Ilene and Robert Johnston, co-creators of BASE Orlando, stepped forward and did what they do best. They organized a paint event to bring BASE’s paint family together as a way to show support and send their love to the community. Mandi explained, “Sometimes all we can do as artists is create something beautiful to counteract the negativity in the world.”
The Other Bar, located on Wall Street in Orlando, graciously hosted the group, while some of the paints were donated by Wolfe FX and Mac. Pizza was even donated so that all the models and painters could have dinner together. Buttons and ribbons and bracelets were exchanged, each a beautiful handcrafted symbol of unity, friendship, and hope.
49 models were painted a separate color, and when brought together formed a human rainbow. One of BASE Orlando’s regular painters, Della Morte, explains that the art itself can be very therapeutic for both the painter and the model. “At times,” she said, “I wasn’t sure if I was laughing or crying, as I kept going back and forth between celebrating the love being show, and mourning the lives that were lost.” The thought echoed out loud between the artists and models, “That could have been me, that could have been any of us.”
As the evening progressed, stories were told, tears were shed, hugs exchanged. One of the models, Beth Love, describes the scene at first as, “Surreal.” She signed up to model explaining, “After the Pulse Orlando event, I was shocked, certainly that it happened in my own town. I felt numbness, and disbelief, and later a great deal of anger... I think it was very hard for me to directly imagine the death of 49 people. Try it yourself, it's more difficult than you'd think.”
One by one the bodies started pouring out of The Other Bar and into the street, they would group together and photos started being taken. Sara Ozim stumbled across the groups of painted bodies while photographing an engagement session for a same sex couple. The sea of rainbow people creating the perfect backdrop to represent their love.
"We are all the same color/creed/sexuality/religion/politics under body paint" -Melody Pekarek, a fellow artist from Chicago
Enakai Mpire, a frequent BASE model and a bar tender at Pulse, was on hand painting, being painted, and sharing his point of view via Facebook Live. Enakai spent the week documenting, donating, coordinating, and spreading the love in every direction he could. Tonight with his signature mohawk, his back was painted with the words, “One Pulse.”
Once all of the 49 models were painted in their color and Mandi added a heart to each one of their chests, the group walked over to the park in front of the Orange County Regional History Center, where the original fundraiser was to be held. As the line formed you could see just how many people 49 people adds up to.
The group formed several different arrangements for a sea of photographers who had assembled to capture this moment on film. A deafening roar of get well wishes were shouted in unison to several of the survivors still recovering in the hospital. As the painters joined in, the mass cried out “Stay Strong ORLANDO!” Model Sunny Applegate described her emotions, “Saying their names out loud made the sky fall to my shoulders and made it so much heavier and so much more real. We were all crying and hugging and when we were done our colors were mottled and mixed together.”
Then, as a final act of solidarity for the victims lost, the human rainbow lined up one by one and held hands in a moment of silence. Mandi then took her paint and went down the line painting a pulse on each of the model’s exposed bellies. Tears and paint began to mix and fall to the ground, as the weight of it all sunk in. Bronte Rodriguez recalls, “The moments of silence with 49 others hit my heart as I felt the power and love of linking hands with the same amount of people that were shot to death... It was surreal and heart breaking.”
“I never really felt that my art makes a difference or does anything special, I am just one of many. But after last night, I am so glad we made all this happen to help in the best way we know how to give.” Mandi Ilene said as she ended the evening in tears thanking and hugging each person for being a part of this.