Artist Viviana Paredes alongside her alter "A safe place, which honored the victims of the Orlando Pulse shooting. Photo: Alejandro Galicia Diaz
Artist Viviana Paredes alongside her altar “A safe place,” which honored the victims of the Orlando Pulse shooting. Photo: Alejandro Galicia Diaz

Among the Dia de los Muertos festivities at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, there stands a glass altar, one made by Bay Area artist Viviana Paredes, commemorating the 49 victims of the Orlando gay nightclub mass shooting this past June.

Throughout Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a celebrated holiday. It is a day of acknowledgment, remembrance and prayer amongst friends and family who have lost loved ones.  

Paredes, who is of Mexican heritage and identities as gay, decided to build an altar for the those killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“So for me, the idea of this piece is that it’s a safe place,” said Paredes, who is a sculptor. “Whether it be here or in heaven, that these people are out of harm’s way now and that we should honor their spirit and think about the tragedy, instead of politicizing all of the different angles of it. Forty nine very young people, who were having fun and weren’t harming anyone.  It’s just a remembrance, honoring that.”

In the early morning of Sunday, June 12, 2016, gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people and 53 others were injured. It is considered the deadliest mass shooting of this country’s history.

“Again, my work always tends to go back to honoring something which I think gets overlooked a lot,” Paredes said. “So when they asked me to do an installation, I said the only thing I wanna do would be for the people of Orlando.”

Artist Viviana Paredes’ altar “A safe place,” which honored the victims of the Orlando Pulse shooting. Photo: Alejandro Galicia Diaz

Paredes’ altar, which she calls A Safe Place, took a year to create in her art studio. It is a sculpture that was made from 300 bottles of tequila. It’s a layered dome of 900 reconstructed pieces of shingles that gives an appearance of a protective and sheltering igloo from a stormy weather. Around the protective tequila-glassed dome are lit candles with skulls surrounding it.  Along the candles are colored necklace beads, flowers and cans of Cafe Bustelo and salsa music CDs to acknowledge the Puerto Rican ancestry of many of the victims. Along the top of the dome are four rainbow flags, a representation of the gay community.

Paredes chose tequila bottles because tequila is a sacred drink in Mexico, and because it comes from the maguey plant, which is an important indigenous plant in Mexico.

Creating the altar was experimental according to Paredes. She tested with many different types of bottles, did it in paper, but it was always an idea of parts, in this case shingles. Paredes says she likes the repetition of her work because it is like a chant.

“For me, ‘gay club’ was always very safe from the outside,” Paredes said. “Inside the club, there are friends and family who are comfortable with being gay. And that particular event changed completely the whole idea of safety. As we know, the whole world and everything has now changed, and so I was really taken back about that.”

Paredes, who is a graduate of California College of the Arts with an emphasis in sculpture, says creating art is a healing process. Her goal has never been to become a “hot-shot” as she says, but to inspire others through spirituality and healing in her art. For Paredes, it’s a healing process to create the work, and to view it.  

“The idea of Dia de los Muertos is to honor the dead,” Paredes said. “And I wanted to pay homage to the people who were killed.”

Paredes’ A Safe Place, was selected to be exhibited at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles after the Davies Symphony Hall’s Dia de los Muertos celebration on November 5.