I am an artist, organizer, and Iraq War veteran, whose work seeks out moments of beauty, poetry, and connection, in order to construct new languages and meanings out of personal and collective traumas. I use these new languages and meanings to create projects that attempt to de-construct systems of dehumanization and oppression.
I was profoundly affected by having to unexpectedly leave college to deploy to Iraq as a truck driver with the 1244th Illinois Army National Guard in January of 2003. Within the first three months of my fifteen-month deployment, everything I understood about myself and the world crumbled, transforming my life.
After my deployment, I returned to the University of Illinois to study painting, where my work focused on deconstructing my experience in the military. I began to use art as a tool to confront issues of militarism and dehumanization. I created Dust Memories (2005), Ahmed (2006), Tourist Photographs of Iraq (2006), and Drawing for Peace (2006) during that period.
In 2006, I joined Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW); in 2007, I was a founding member of Warrior Writers. In 2009, I received an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University and became the national IVAW Organizing Team Leader (Organizing Director).
Since the beginning of my involvement with IVAW, I worked on art and organizing projects, including Warrior Writers, Combat Paper, Drawing For Peace, Operation First Casualty, Winter Soldier [video coverage], Demilitarized University, IVAW Field Organizing Program, Operation Recovery Campaign, War is Trauma Portfolio, and the March for Reconciliation and Healing.
As curator for the "Surrealism and War" exhibit at the National Veterans Art Museum, which ran from May 26 to November 1, 2014, Aaron Hughes stated:
"This show is transformational for veterans who often feel isolated in their experiences. It is not only bringing an intergenerational group of veterans together but also showing the connection to one of the most powerful modern art movements: Surrealism. Which was dominated by veterans."
"It is so important for veteran artists to see themselves and their work in relationship to the history of art and artist. My generation of veterans is not the first to come home from war and express the realities and traumas of war through art. This exhibition brings that history to light and demonstrates the connection between what Iraq veterans are doing with what Vietnam, Korean, and World War One veterans have done."
- The very symbolic return of veterans' war medals - in conjunction with the March for Reconciliation and Healing - during the 2012 Chicago NATO Summit; and
- Operation First Casualty, a war zone re-enactment in one of many major cities targeted for a performance by veterans who had returned from service in Iraq.