By Our Own Hand

September 12, 2021-July 17, 2022

Frontline Arts in collaboration with Donna Bassin

By Our Own Hand was a year-long, site-specific installation in Laurie Art Stairway, in collaboration with Frontline Arts and Donna Bassin. On view were approximately 800 sheets of handmade paper created from veterans’ uniforms and provided by Frontline Paper, an initiative of Frontline Arts. Inspired by the ancient practice of Tibetan prayer flags hung to mark an important and challenging occasion, BOOH referred to the toll of veteran deaths by their own hand as well as to the resiliency and creativity from transforming military uniforms into handmade paper.  This craft as a connective practice brings the diversity of veterans’ experience into culture—away from silence, and with this installation, opens a dialogue around veteran suicide. While the actual number of daily suicides among the veteran population has fluctuated between 17 and 22 per day since 2001, it consistently remains at a rate more than twice that of the rest of the population.

Frontline Paper is a mobile, national veterans’ papermaking program that connects communities and teaches veterans the art of making handmade paper from military uniforms as a transformational and socially engaging way to share their stories with each other and with the public.  The sheets of paper that were on view were made by many veterans in workshops offered by Frontline Paper, as well as veteran facilitators at Frontline Arts in Branchburg, NJ, and a papermaking studio run by veteran artists in Trumansburg, NY. 

The handmade paper workshops create 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, Frontline Paper artists teach the art of papermaking and printmaking to veterans of all service eras.

The exhibition was accompanied by a video with excerpts from writer-Director Donna Bassin’s award-winning documentary The Mourning After (2015-16) featuring poet veterans Eli Wright and Maurice DeCaul. As Bassin notes, “One doesn’t heal from war; one learns to surrender to its complicated traumatic impact. As veterans struggle with their losses, they have found ways to address and work through the moral injury and PTS with which they contend. They witness their losses via engagement in community activism, memorializing rituals, and acts of artistic and poetic creation.”

This exhibition was curated by artist, activist, and educator David Keefe, co-founder of Frontline Arts and President of the Board of Trustees, with Donna Bassin. She is a fine art photographer, clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst, and award-winning documentary filmmaker.  They have worked with MAM’s curatorial department staff, especially Osanna Urbay, Registrar, Bruce Rainier, Preparator, and Gail Stavitsky, Chief Curator.


Installation designed by Donna Bassin (2014) with Frontline Paper
Model created by Robert Pyzocha, 
Photographs by Steve Hellerstein