There are days when my fingers itch with the need to be creative. Writing, painting, photographing, baking, or making a scrapbook for my niece or nephew – it doesn’t matter so long as the creativity comes out. Sometimes the desire hits at odd times, with no particular impetus. Often, though, it hits when I am stressed by something. The process of being artistic, of creating something, allows me to focus on something other than the stressor, to become intent on the creative process, and both relieves the stress and allows me to subconsciously work through the stressing issue, giving me new perspective. This is the idea were talking about this week, about healing through the arts. And it is exactly what many veterans are experiencing through the Combat Paper Project.
The project, started in 2007, allows veterans, family members, and survivors to come together and turn the stresses of their military experience into art. In workshops, which generally last five days, participants create paper out of old uniforms. The process, which involves cutting the uniforms into pieces, turning the pieces into pulp, pressing the pulp into sheets, creating images to transfer to the sheets, and finally transferring the images to the paper, allows the participants to transform their military experiences, to take control of them and recreate them into something that is representative of what those experiences mean to them. Past participants have created journals, pages of poetry, sculptures, and visual representations, all of which are incredibly expressive and beautiful.
The Combat Paper Project was conceived and started by Drew Cameron, formerly US Army Field Artillery and an Iraq veteran turned artist, and Drew Matott, a paper and book artist. A collaboration that morphed over time, the Combat Paper Project is now a non-profit organization which holds workshops and lectures across the United States, Canada, and the UK, and has exhibited work across the US, the UK, Australia, and Japan. Based out of San Francisco, it has affiliated studios in New York, New Jersey, and Nevada.
While the founders have a decidedly anti-war bent (Cameron is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Matott used to stage war-related “street interventions” and now runs a new organization called “Peace Paper”), the Project’s intent is not to be anti-war, but to open dialogue between military veterans of all wars, their families, and civilians so that the various views on war and how it has impacted each person can become a shared experience. Additionally, the Project strives to help veterans process their own experiences with war and the military, the good and the bad, and use the tool of papermaking to help bring clarity and catharsis to those events and using the process of turning uniforms into art to transform those experiences into a new experience.
In a 2012 interview with Barbara Gates, Cameron said, “When I came back from Iraq, I had needed something, but I just hadn’t known what I needed.” I know that he’s not the only veteran out there who feels or has felt this way, regardless of how great or horrible your military experience was. So, if you’re looking for something, but you aren’t sure what, try checking out a Combat Paper Project event and see if the creative outlet it provides is what you’ve been looking for.
Upcoming events include a paper workshop at the University of California-Berkley 4-6 April 2014 and another at the University of Maryland, College Park, 29 April-1 May 2014. Also, the New Jersey branch will be sponsoring a five day workshop, courtesy of a Wounded Warrior Project grant, held in Washington, D.C., next week, 24-28 March.
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