Despite a busy schedule after traveling to San Sebastian, Spain and Paris, France, artist and activist Drew Matott has been on campus all week hosting an open papermaking studio. His current work, the Combat Paper Project (combatpaper.org) ties in with the current Brush Art Gallery exhibition “Remembering 9/11,” which is on display through October 22. Both of these projects look back on times of war as well as moving past them and forming connections with those who are dealing with the aftermath of war and terrorism.
The Combat Paper Project began in 2007 and is co-directed by Matott and Drew Cameron, who is a Veteran of Iraq. The goal of the Project is to create collaborations between veterans, their families, friends, and community members, through the process of making paper out of veterans’ old war uniforms.
The pieces of material are cut up, pulped, and crafted into sheets of hand-made paper. Matott stressed that through this process, an often-transformational dialogue is created between not only veterans, but also others who were affected by war and its impact on this world. By creating art and sharing experiences, healing is within reach.
“The project started out as a big ‘fuck you’ to Bush” Matott said, but explained that it has since evolved. “Now it’s more sophisticated. We’ve found that it’s less important to be overly political because it’s alienating to send anti-war messages,” he said.
After giving up his Chicago apartment in 2007 to go on the road, Matott has since been touring with his team that often includes groups of veterans themselves, to spread the word about the project. St. Lawrence was the first legitimate academic institution to support the Combat Paper Project, and Matott’s team plus 12 veterans visited in 2007 to do a workshop and test out the idea.
“It’s art therapy,” Matott said. “I want to create an environment where vets, their families, friends, and community members can come together and discuss the culture of militarism.”
Matott explained that traveling with his team is like traveling with a large family. “I enjoy working in public forum, and I very seldom work alone.” He’s not touring the U.S. like he used to, though. Matott’s focus is now on teaching. “It’s been hard to broadcast my own art voice because I’ve been concentrating on broadcasting the voices of the vets,” he said.
Matott’s latest project, which began only two months ago, is called Peace Paper (peacepaper.net). He hopes to use paper-making and other artistic outlets as vehicles for fostering community ties and empowerment in places such as London and Mumbai, which are dealing with the effects of terrorism on their local and national identities.
He looks forward to traveling to more hostile areas to engage with foreign cultures. “I see art as social action,” Matott said. “It’s a democracy and a healthy dialogue.”