Former Portland resident Chris Arendt recently released a limited-edition zine with the paper made from a unique material: military uniform. It wasn’t just any uniform, it was his own.
The Independent Publishing Resource Center‘s director, Justin Hocking, recently explained:
After a tour of duty as a military police officer in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Chris moved to Portland and became a local organizer for the Iraq Veterans Against the War. He soon found his way to the IPRC and created his first zine, “Paper Birds: Styrofoam Flowers,” which, as he puts it, explains “how one goes about becoming a concentration camp guard without ever having really made any decisions.”
The zine’s title refers to the styrofoam cups that prisoners at Guantanamo etched into with their fingernails, despite retribution, in a defiant act of creativity. Through writing his thoughts upon what was once his uniform, Chris transformed the work into a cathartic form of art. On recent post of his blog he describes purifying “this fabric of the whole goddamn mess. I will reintroduce the both of us, my uniform and I, back into innocence.”
Last month, Chris was on hand to present his zine at the IGLOO gallery, a space that hosts a variety of DIY projects and events of its own. Chris was presenting his zine with Motorcycle Awesome, a developing collective of soldiers and civilians who aim to “increase awareness of wartime actions through art-making while breaking down the boundaries between soldier and civilian.”
Recently, the styrofoam flowers story came up again, this time while Chris was having dinner with one of Guantanamo’s former prisoners. This is because Chris is currently on tour of the United Kingdom with Moazzam Begg, who invited Chris to join him in a speaking mission to share their experiences and advocate human rights. A portrait of their styrofoam flowers moment is captured on www.guantanamovoices.org – a website following their journey and written by Portland reporter Sarah Mirk.
The site reveals another unexpected story to emerge from the prison. At Guantanamo, Chris was ordered to only allow eight sheets of toilet paper per prisoner – a precation to the chance that one of them try to fashion a knife out of the material. Mirk writes that “to prepare for homemade shanks, he spent two horrible days letting other soldiers stab him with rubber knives while repeating (on command), ‘I will get stabbed but I will not die!’ ”
When he returns to the United States, Chris will be doing more paper-making with the Combat Paper Project, a group based in devoted to connecting veterans with artistic projects to help them heal. In addition to their workshops, they produce videos, hold exhibits, and publish Warrior Writers, collections of writings like Chris has done.
You can find a copy of Paper Birds: Styrofoam Flowers at the IPRC’s library at 917 SW Oak St. #218
You can follow also Chris’ travels at www.guantanamovoices.org
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