BSU students create visual art exhibit of COVID-19 deaths

Yoshiko Yap

BOISE, Idaho — Every day, dozens of Idahoans lose a loved one to COVID-19. Some may be fortunate enough to not be impacted personally, but these deaths aren’t just numbers.

Three Boise State University students, José Giovanni Herrera, Arlie Sommer, and Danny Wheeler are bringing the data to a more visual platform.

“Art offers another avenue for that conversation that’s not as polarized and I think it’s important that we have opportunities to have more intimate conversations where we recognize the humanity in each other. This project kind of tries to work toward that,” artist Arlie Sommer said.

Thread County

Idaho News 6

There are 3,168 pieces of thread embroidered on a hospital bed sheet donated by St. Luke’s Health System. Each thread on the piece named “Thread Count” represents a death in Idaho due to COVID-19 as of Sunday, October 10, 2021.

This project was created as part of ART 373/473 which is a Time Based Art class, taught by Professor Kate Walker at Boise State University.

“We’re experiencing a lot of grief in Idaho right now by these deaths and I think everyone has been touched by this illness,” Sommer said. “The three of us decided to have a community embroidery circle where we would invite people to come and embroider each death.”

“Each starburst is a county in Idaho and each stitch represents a death. Each county was embroidered by a different person and so it really is a community effort,” Sommer said.

To expand on each stitch, they added interviews with healthcare workers to help visitors feel what they are seeing every day. Here is what one of the tracks says:

“Hearing those family members cry day after day after day and knowing that I cant take a break because I already there working as hard as I can and listening to those sobs and still trying to work. It’s a lot. You may not have time to process that you just turned off care for a 27-year-old who has three kids at home. Two hours later they might turn off care on another sad case and so it’s unrelenting…really.”

The artists hope to give visitors some insight into the day-to-day struggles of Idahoans working the frontlines while honoring those lost to the virus.

“When you hear what they are witnessing you won’t believe it. The symptoms caused by this illness are severe. What people go through when they die from COVID-19 is so tragic and is not the way anyway should die,” Sommer said. “It’s interesting to contemplate that rand the trauma that our community is facing right now and how we will look back on this time. I think it’s going to leave a mark.”

The exhibit is on display in Room 110 of the Center for Visual Arts for free and is open to the public. Facial coverings are required for all visitors.

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