Drawing on your underwear for a cause

St. Ambrose students aired out their (hopefully not) dirty laundry at an art event. They had the opportunity to take their underwear and recycle it into paper as part of the Peace Paper Project.

“The idea is that we’re using unmentionables to address the unmentionable,” co-founder of Peace Paper Project Margaret Mahan said. “The art that is created in our workshops is reflective of the resilience of the survivors of violence. And so by holding these workshops in the public sphere, we’re giving people that might be survivors themselves the chance to see that their student body supports them and that we’re all working towards ending violence.”

Mahan started the project in 2011, and has held workshops pulping anywhere from two to 250 pairs of underwear. She says each workshop has been inspirational in its own way.

It’s the second year the traveling workshop has come to St. Ambrose. Mahan remembered last year well. It was the first time the project was done out in the open.

“At first, I was thinking about it as something that was more intimate and behind closed doors,” Mahan said. However, she said the response from students here made her think differently.

Mahan travels all over the world with her partner, Drew Matott, spreading the message that sexual and domestic violence is not okay. Their method of teaching is what throws people off guard.

Before people start cutting up their undergarments, they have to sign a pledge against violence. Mahan said they’ve visited about 15 universities and have worked with art therapists to help survivors of trauma by allowing them to express their thoughts on the recycled paper.

Mahan started pulping her own paper a few years ago while studying English and creative writing.

“I fell in love with the hand paper making process and turning my old clothing into paper and then writing on it,” Mahan said. “It was really neat to work with materials that had personal significance. Being able to write a poem on a piece of paper that had its own meaning in itself because it was mine was really special and empowering.”

Those who took the pledge cut up their underwear into postage stamp-sized strips. The material was put into a special beater that blends the material into a pulp, and then pressed and transformed into paper.

Mahan hopes to bring the project back to St. Ambrose next year.

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