Healing Veterans Through Art
|Photo: Green Door Studio|
“Combat Paper” is a powerful and unique art exhibit featuring images printed on paper made out of shredded combat uniforms. It is both art and therapy, utilizing paper as its medium, and it has been generating hope and inspiration for war veterans across the country. The participation of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) in this project illustrates just how committed the group is to both ending the war and occupation in Iraq and to healing the damaged spirits of returning veterans. Unlike the media portrayal of anti-war activists as unpatriotic and focused only on the negative, the Combat Paper project and IVAW prove to have a positive impact on veterans. The project serves as a visceral statement of the long lasting effects of combat and acts as a catalyst for community discussion and activism. The exhibit comes to Syracuse on October 8 at the ArtRage Gallery. (See below.)
Green Door Studio and the Two Drews
The project began in a papermaking studio in Burlington, Vermont. Green Door Studio has become a place where combat veterans can go and be encouraged in their return to civilian life. It also provides a graphic statement on war, especially the war in Iraq. It grew out of the relationship between two men – Drew Matott and Drew Cameron – and their connection with members of IVAW. Together they created this project as a means of reclamation: a way for combat veterans to reconcile their war experiences and transform their uniforms that have come to have such negative connotations into something hopeful and positive.
Drew Cameron served multiple tours in Iraq and is a member of IVAW. He first learned eastern papermaking from his father. After taking a western paper workshop at Green Door Studio he joined the studio and recently became the Director. In remarks made at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, DC, Drew spoke of his first experience with the project, “I dressed up in my uniform and the jeans that I hadn’t worn since I left Iraq and started to cut them off my body; to pulp them into paper.” He continued, “The feeling, at first, was like I was doing something horribly wrong, that I was doing something against what I was supposed to stand up for. Then I found myself cutting off my nametag, cutting off my rank; removing all the clothing was such a relief, such a good feeling of being able to make something positive. I got a lot out of it.”
|Photo: Green Door Studioare|
Drew Matott received his MFA in Book and Paper Arts from Columbia College Chicago and his BFA in Printmaking from Buffalo State College. He co-founded the Green Door Studio, People’s Republic of Paper, the Combat Paper project, BluSeed Paper Mill and Free Your Mind Press. While not a veteran, he has strong feelings about art and social issues. For a presentation in Washington, DC titled Pulp Politics: Dissent & Intervention, he opened his remarks by stating that the “single greatest threat today is a single disenfranchised public that is afraid to speak. Freedom isn’t free, right? But freedom isn’t gained by supporting an unjust war…flag waving or simply casting ballots.” Commenting on the Combat Paper project, he emphasizes the power of bringing people together, observing that, “Community makes a difference. I believe there is no better way to get people involved than through community art projects. Maybe art-makers need to step up to answer this call.”
Combat Paper and the Warrior Writers
A companion piece to the papermaking project is the Warrior Writers project. The Syracuse Peace Council sponsored readings from these works last fall – a powerful performance to behold. It facilitates workshops to encourage IVAW members to write about their feelings since returning home. Some of their words are printed on paper made during Combat Paper events and bound into books. This project provides an opportunity for veterans to come together and connect, to reconcile and heal through sharing their words with each other. Volumes are already in the permanent collections at Yale University, the University of Vermont and the University of Minnesota.
Drew Cameron has a friend, John Turner, an ex-marine who served two tours of duty in
Members of IVAW will speak about military resistance, read selections from the Warrior Writers project and stage a performance of shredding a uniform. A film screening of past IVAW performances and live readings from the Warrior Writer book will be held on Thursday, October 16 from 5-8 pm at the gallery. Both events are free and open to the public.
Iraq. At the Carnegie Institute, Drew read an excerpt from John’s writings with the Warrior Writers: “I thank you for looking at me and screaming. I’m thankful that the first round didn’t kill you. I’m sorry that I took your life. Please forgive me. I’m no longer the monster that I once was.”Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), John also participated in the papermaking project. After putting the shreds of his uniform into the pulp he continued by putting in pieces of his Purple Heart medal and even threw in pieces of his marriage license – he is one of many veterans whose marriage ended upon his return from combat.
IVAW fully supports both the Combat Paper and Warrior Writers projects, as do many Viet Nam veterans who show up occasionally at the Green Door Studio to check it out and find community. Drew Cameron engages in this project, “In memory and awareness of all military veterans; those who have fallen, are resisting and those who have not yet found their voice.” He says the act of making the paper is in, “willful defiance of military authority and furthermore, in utter contempt and disillusion of the white stone walls that currently hold the seats of power, the most destructive, oppressive government that this country has ever realized.”
He believes that IVAW is similar to the military in that it is composed of people from all walks of life with differing political and religious perspectives and viewpoints. But they come together on the three points of unity that set them apart:
immediate, unconditional and permanent withdrawal of all military forces in Iraq;
reparations paid to the Iraqi people for the destruction of their country so that they can truly pursue self-determination;
full benefits, adequate health care, including mental health care, for all returning veterans.
Please visit the exhibit at the ArtRage Gallery and support this effort to transform tools of war into tools of healing.