Combat Paper returns to ArtRage Gallery

Combat Paper Redux encourages creative expression to help veterans cope with war experiences.

During the height of the Iraq War, many veterans were looking for a release when they came home -- a way to deal with the stress of combat and to cope with any trauma.

Out of frustration came the Combat Paper Project in Burlington, Vt. The project began when Drew Cameron, an Iraq War veteran, cut his uniform from his body, turned the cloth into pulp and created paper from it.

Photo: Caitlin Murray
A veteran's journal of his experience is one part of the Combat Paper Redux exhibit at ArtRage.

Meanwhile, in Syracuse, a group of individuals came together to open an art gallery with a focus on social justice. The gallery opened in October 2008 under the name ArtRage, and, within months of Cameron’s uniform cutting ceremony, the Combat Paper exhibit was open to the public.

“The place was packed. There was a lot of interest in Iraq Vets Against the War,” said ArtRage director Rose Viviano, who has been a part of the gallery since it opened. “It was incredibly emotional because it was not long into the Iraq War. These were Iraq veterans against the war, active duty soldiers for the most part, at Fort Drum, who were out front, being against the war.”

Five years later, ArtRage has increased its presence in the area.

“More and more people know we exist, and we’re able to partner with more organizations around town,” said Kimberly McCoy, the gallery’s community engagement organizer.

In May 2011, ArtRage hosted an exhibit showcasing the struggles of LGBT families in the Central New York area. In May 2009, the gallery teamed up with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to showcase work inspired by those living with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, using the work of Syracuse native Amber Christian Osterhout, relating the exhibit to the city’s own community.

In honor of the gallery’s fifth anniversary, ArtRage decided to bring back Combat Paper, this time adding an interactive journal-making workshop held as part of the CRAVE arts festival on Sept. 21.

Former Army E4 Specialist Nathan Lewis is a member of the Combat Paper Project and served as host of the workshop. He brought paper made out of uniforms and taught attendees how to bind their own journals.

For Lewis, the Combat Paper Project was a way to cope with civilian life returning from Iraq in 2003.

“I met Drew Cameron, one of the co-creators, in 2007 while I was a student at SUNY Potsdam,” Lewis said. “We both met in Iraq Veterans Against the War, and we were geographically close. Since the program’s beginning, he has been involved in the process of using the paper for writing, advocating for the importance of keeping a journal for both soldiers and civilians.

“I started off just kind of being a participant and, definitely, I enjoyed the process from the start,” Lewis said. “But slowly over time I started writing more. It gave me something to do with the paper. So I really, from the start, was interested in making hand-bound books.”

As ArtRage began planning its fifth anniversary exhibit, the idea to do something hands-on quickly came up in discussion. “We always try to come up with a program that we want to do throughout the exhibition,” McCoy said. Over the coming year, the gallery is hoping to continue expanding the interactive portion of its exhibits with more workshops and special engagements.

Combat Paper Redux will be at ArtRage Gallery, 505 Hawley Ave., until Oct. 19. The gallery is open to the public Wednesday through Friday from 2 to 7 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

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