Artist Uses Foam Cups

October 23, 2014

In response to his deployment to Iraq and Kuwait in 2003, and his return trip as a delegate to the International Labor Conference in 2009, war veteran Aaron Hughes recently launched a project to start a conversation regarding difficult war topics and to make sense of the traumas that come with being deployed. Through his installation known as The Tea Project, the artist and teacher is using polystyrene foam cups as a mold to create and display 779 porcelain tea cups, each representing one of the men detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.1

The Tea Project is a series of exhibits and performances that are all centered on the foam cups used by Guantanamo Bay detainees each day. Amber Ginsberg, Hughes’s collaborative partner in the project, explains that, “There’s this really amazing story that this project emerges from about a guard at Guantanamo who would serve tea to detainees and he would pass the tea cup to the detainee. They had no writing [implements], nothing, but the impulse to make art is deeply human and when he collected the tea cups they were draw all over with beautiful flowers.”1 Hughes has decided to take this story and allow it to begin the conversation about war, peace and social justice. The main-stay pieces of the exhibition, the porcelain tea cups, are decorated with the national flower and the name of each individual Guantanamo detainee. This gives identity and characteristics to individuals most Americans would not be discussing otherwise.

The exhibition and related performances are being held in Lawrence, Kansas, at the Lawrence Art Center, and are going on now through November 14. Hughes and Ginsburg hope that the tea cups can serve as a conversation piece to start a dialogue about the current role of the U.S. in acts of war. Events surrounding The Tea Project include performances, poetry readings and a discussion with Marc Folkoff from the Center for Constitutional Rights.2