Aaron Hughes

[Artist, Veteran, Activist]

“Art, as a historical record, is extremely important.”
Things Aaron Hughes drew in his sketchbook while deployed Iraq:
Desert Flowers
Arabesques on one of Uday Hussein’s mansions
The Euphrates River
His truck

Aaron Hughes, lanky and blond, with a soft voice and a big Midwestern smile, was a junior in college when he was called to active duty with the 1244th Transportation Company of the Army National Guard. On April 17, 2003, his unit was deployed to Kuwait, where Hughes served as an 88M truck driver, supporting combat operations by transporting supplies from ports in Kuwait to forward operating bases throughout Iraq. His service was extended three times, and he served for a total of one year, three months, and seven days.

Today, Hughes’s paintings, drawings, and collages have been shown in galleries across the country and ten handbound copies of Dust Memories, an accordion-fold art book that explores the ambiguous and cyclical nature of war, are housed in museums and collections around the world. His post-deployment life has been a balancing act of art and activism. As part of his ongoing performance project, Tea, Hughes has prepared and served Iraqi tea to audiences in Japan, Beirut, and Chicago, among other places. He has worked for Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and serves on the board of the National Veterans Art Museum.

His art is haunted and haunting. In Dust Memories, the futile vasculature of road maps overlay vast expanses of desert interrupted by the impassive machinery of war—tanks, trucks, helicopters—layered in with the unreadable faces of those who watch this machinery in motion. Like much of Hughes’s work, the book is a meditation on uncertainty: are those red starbursts flowers? Bullet holes? Architectural details? What are we to think of what we see?

—Meehan Crist

*

THE BELIEVER: Let’s imagine that this conversation gets published somewhere where you can speak to people who wouldn’t normally hear your voice. What is the one thing you wish people knew, or wish they heard? What is the one thing that you would wish to communicate?

AARON HUGHES: Turn off your TVs and go to a VA hospital. Just sit there. Don’t ask anyone any questions, just go sit in the cafeteria and watch, and make a judgment about the war and about veterans. Just sit there watching.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Meehan Crist is writer-in-residence in biological sciences at Columbia University. Previously, she was reviews editor at the Believer, and her work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Lapham’s Quarterly, the New Republic, and Scientific American.

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