All veterans have a story to tell. For too long, we have lived in a day and age where veterans tend to suppress their experiences – producing a culture of the “silent veteran.” Combat Paper NJ (CPNJ) is a unique participatory art project that offers artistic tools and professional instruction for all, providing a space to use art and writing to explore experiences, and ultimately share them publicly, all through papermaking.
Our specialty is the transformative process of making handmade paper from military uniforms—Combat Paper. Through public workshops, this handmade paper creates a platform for veterans and non-veterans to come together and share stories, providing a “new language,” and much needed discourse between veterans and society. In casual drop-in sessions, on college campuses, in community centers, at pop-up street corner workshops, and at VA and military hospitals, CPNJ artists teach the art of papermaking and printmaking to veterans of all service eras.
Uniforms can hold dirt, blood, sweat, and memories. Each workshop session begins with the participants sharing their stories while cutting into the uniform. They deconstruct the trace object as they deconstruct the memories associated with the uniform.
The cut pieces of uniform are beaten into a pulp using specially designed papermaking equipment, creating a slurry of fibers and water. Sheets of paper are then pulled from the pulp and dried to create Combat Paper. In this process the fibers and memories are reconstructed, or reclaimed into something different - paper.
Dried sheets of Combat Paper become the platform for veterans to communicate their stories. Through instructional periods, veterans integrate drawing, printmaking, and/or written words into their Combat Paper using various techniques. Whether the blank paper, or a created image on the surface, each Combat Paper artwork tells a story through the new language of papermaking.
EVERYONE BECOMES A WITNESS
Community-based events, and Combat Paper exhibitions are important opportunities for veterans to talk about their military service, and for society to hear stories from the veterans themselves, the people. The practice of community-based art, pedagogy of the oppressed, participatory relational aesthetics, storytelling and making, engages society, give everyone a voice, and exposes the true complexity of the veteran experience. This sparks a dialogue of the raw realities of what it means to serve in the military, and live through the aftermath. These opportunities help the public better understand the complex veteran narrative, and raise awareness among witnesses that the current bridge built between veterans and society needs repairing.