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Artwork promotes awareness of domestic violence

Sirek created “Toe Tag” in remembrance of the 34 domestic homicide victims in Minnesota in 2015. Photo by Rik Sferra1 / 4
“Collateral Damage” is a child-size body bag representing the children who often are forgotten victims of domestic violence. Photo by Rik Sferra2 / 4
Sirek often uses the dress as a symbol or women and girls in her work. “A dress serves as a wrapper or container for the body, acts as a second skin, and holds the essence of the person who wears it,” she wrote. Photo by Rik Sferra3 / 4
“Please, Daddy Stop” is a life-size paper dress similar to something Sirek would have worn when she first witnessed violence in her home. Photo by Rik Sferra4 / 4

Julie Sirek, whose artwork reflects her concern for victims of domestic violence, returns Friday, April 14, to the Anderson Center with an eclectic assortment of textile creations.

A reception for the exhibit, "Behind Closed Doors," will be at 7 p.m. at Tower View. It is free and open to everyone.

Sirek worked on one of her larger projects when she was in residence here during August 2015. An installation titled "Till Death Do Us Part," the project consists of handmade prayer flags for all 1,437 victims of domestic homicide in the United States that year.

Each flag is embroidered with a victim's name, age, city, how he or she died, and who perpetrated the homicide.

The string of flags has been installed between the Anderson Center's north artist studios on the lower lawn and the woods overlooking the Cannon River.

The installation will remain there for a year, Sirek said. She will photograph and videotape the flags to document their deterioration.

Several other unique projects are included in the new exhibit, which will be displayed until late June.

"Toe Tag" is a grouping of morgue-style tags containing the vital information about the 34 individuals who were killed in domestic homicides in Minnesota in 2015.

"I wanted to remember their deaths in a personalized way," Sirek said in an essay published in Surface Design. "They were more than a statistic. ... This is my personal act of remembrance."

Sirek is showing a series of 30 little paper dresses she made in 2009 to honor that year's female victims, a poem with the text hand-cut out of paper, a life-size little girl's dress, and a child-size body bag representing the children who often are forgotten victims.

Her most recent piece, an abstract map on linen with French knots representing about 2,100 victims nationwide who died in 2016, also is included.

Sirek's intent is to help break the silence surrounding the issue of domestic violence.

"It's very personal to me," she told the Republican Eagle during her earlier residency. "I grew up with this. I remember my mother getting beat up" by her father.

In her artist statement, Sirek says, "I do not make art to sell. I make art to make a difference. I want to raise awareness about domestic violence. ... Art is uniquely positioned to move people — to inspire, to spark new ideas, to invite new questions, and to provoke curiosity or outrage."

This is her mission. "I may not be able to end domestic violence," she writes, "but through my work, I hope to make an impact on the world we live in today and in the future."

Sirek starts every morning by researching media outlets for information about domestic homicide victims. She records their names and any other pertinent information to use in her artwork.

"If my work can make someone stop, even for a moment, I have accomplished something. I hope to provide information that will encourage people to think deeper, change their perspective, or even incite them to action," she said.

A unique feature of Sirek's works is her frequent use of the ancient process of joomchi, a Korean felting technique that transforms mulberry paper into a textile-like material.

The art of joomchi is a solitary, painstaking process of layering, wetting and agitating the paper. This causes the fibers to intertwine, stabilize and strengthen into a material she uses to create two- and three-dimensional sculptural pieces.

A Twin Cities resident, Sirek studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, Canada, England and South Korea, and it has been featured in numerous publications.

Her prayer flag project was made possible by a Minnesota State Arts Board grant. She recently received a second grant from the arts board for a new project.

"I will create a 'quipu,'" Sirek said. She explained that ancient Mayans did not have a written language, but used colored cords and knots to create a sort of ledger for recording information with numerical values.

Her quipu will record victims of domestic homicide. "I will hand twist and hand dye all the cords from silk," she said.

The public is invited to meet Sirek Friday, April 14, at the Anderson Center. A reception will begin at 7 p.m., and at 8 p.m. she will speak briefly and answer questions about her work.

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