Editor’s Letter – November, 2013

November 11, 2013

Combat Paper Veteran Artists

Drew Matott, Deployed, 2010. Relief print on Combat Paper. The Combat Paper Project is a collaboration among veterans to reclaim their uniforms as art, through a transformative process of papermaking, and express their experiences with the military.

A discerning comment from Rick Lowe, made during this year’s Creative Time Summit, left an indelible impression. Participating in an online conversation between presenters and Summit screening sites around the world, Lowe was asked about art’s role in effecting change. He responded, “The tool of art is not to solve the problem, but to create awareness and point in some direction as to how you solve it.” Artists may never resolve the housing or education crises, for instance, but they can enlighten our approach to social needs and thereby have a more wide-ranging, symbolic impact.

Lowe’s sentiment typifies many of this edition’s pieces. From the team behind Sandy Storyline—who “amplify the voices” of those affected by Hurricane Sandy to convey the impact of last year’s natural disaster on communities—we hear a story of a woman who broke from her previous life as a veterinary technician to become an organizer devoted to rehabilitating parts of the New Jersey coastline. And from BR McDonald, a former U.S. Army veteran, we learn how art “gives the civilian population the opportunity to understand the veteran experience.” His poignant piece is accompanied by images of prints from the Combat Paper Project, a collaboration started by Drew Matott and Drew Cameron that engages veterans, activists and artists.

In the wake of Al-Shabaab’s attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall, filmmaker Thymaya Payne takes us to the red, whirling sandy plains of Dadaab, a refugee camp just three hours from the Kenyan capital with a population the size of Cleveland, Ohio. For Payne, who spent years in East Africa documenting Somali piracy for his recent film Stolen Seas, the destitute conditions that have contributed to the rise of Al-Shabaab could easily instigate the languishing population of Dadaab to follow in their footsteps.

Finally, for “Trading with the Enemy,” artist Duke Riley devoted eight months of his life to sidestepping a stringent trade embargo with Cuba, equipping 50 homing pigeons with cameras to film their flights between Key West and Havana. In the age of drone surveillance, Riley’s videos—amusingly documented with a video clip of a bird landing on a yacht and overhearing intimate conversations— show that “feather-and-bone messengers” can still fly below the radar and subvert longstanding governmental barricades.

Marisa Mazria Katz