A military uniform is akin to a soldier’s skin festooned with tattoos, displaying eye-grabbing patches and campaign ribbons, a feisty advertisement of where this soldier/ sailor/ airman/ marine has been. Imagine what it takes to deliberately tear one’s war uniform apart.
“It was liberating,” says Drew Cameron, a former Army artilleryman who served in
You are not my enemy
my brother my sister,
but I have done something wrong
and perhaps I am now yours.
You are not my enemy
you never were.
You are a part of me
as I am with you.
Cameron, 26, is a cofounder of the Combat Paper Project, which offers a very creative take on war memories. The idea is to gather a group of vets and college students to shred military uniforms into handmade “combat paper”—which is then inscribed with images or messages designed by the vets. Some of this work is on display in a collection of art and writings by members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, titled Warrior Writers: Re-making Sense and in limited edition chapbooks and art portfolios printed on handmade paper that contains visible threads of uniforms.
“The story of the fiber, the blood, sweat and tears, the months of hardship and brutal violence are held within those old uniforms. … Reclaiming that association of subordination, of warfare and service into something collective and beautiful is our inspiration,” says Cameron, who founded the project last year in
Cameron, Matott and a small band of fellow papermakers recently conducted a series of workshops and public events at
“We’re making paper today out of veterans’ uniforms on Veterans Day, with real veterans,” Matott said to a curious circle of students and pedestrians who stopped near the entrance to Rutgers’
“It’s phenomenal—marrying the medium to this message that’s not really talked about in our culture,” said Lisa Switalski, a papermaking specialist at Rutgers’ Judith K. and
“I was there to open the doors and to observe,” Anne McKeown, master papermaker at the
As a writer, I’m hard-pressed to explain this experience. Presented the opportunity to lop pieces off a desert warfare uniform, I found it very satisfying to disassemble with my hands and scissors an official symbol of military might. I wished I still had one of my
Through Cameron and Matott’s efforts, Combat Paper workshops and their recycled works of art have appeared at numerous colleges and art galleries around the country in the past year. “Veterans of wars in
The biggest artistic impact may be on the vet who shed the uniform. “The Combat Paper Project gives vets a chance to fight back against their trauma — taking the horrors of war from the battlefield into the studio, sharing their experiences with other veterans, and remaking those experiences into something entirely new,” writer Julia Rappaport noted in a perceptive news report in the Boston Phoenix (“Scars & Stripes,” 9/25/08).
At the Rutgers’ workshop, a young Army veteran from
Emptiness is all you find where her loving soul used to be
Anger and hatred is now her contagious disease
Don’t ever look into her eyes
“We’re very good at constructing walls,” Cameron said of American culture during a Combat Paper Project presentation at Dieu Donne, a papermaking center in
“We’re all going through many changes in this project,” added Eli Wright, a 27-year-old Army veteran from
Combat Paper art selections will be displayed at the
For more information on Combat Paper Project: http://www.combatpaper.org/index.html