Skip to navigationSkip to content
Matt Kenyon / SWAMP
Seditious stationery
ENEMY LINES

An artist is using the humble yellow legal pad as a secret weapon of protest

Anne Quito
By Anne Quito

Design and architecture reporter

Artist Matt Kenyon wants you to write a letter to the US government—and he’s even supplying the paper.

Under a magnifying loupe, the ruled lines in his ordinary-looking legal pads reveal the names and details of every Iraqi civilian killed during the first three years of the US-led invasion of Iraq, starting in 2003. To produce the pads, Kenyon used micro-printing, a special process typically used as anti-counterfeiting technique for banknotes.

Matt Kenyon / SWAMP

The project is a memorial to the war’s casualties, similar to Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC—only Kenyon’s in the form of a palette of yellow stationery that is currently stored in his Michigan studio. His goal is to  draw attention to the thousands of Iraqis who have perished without much acknowledgement from the US government. Kenyon claims that the pads have been smuggled into the halls and supply closets of US congressmen and senators. The pads are also now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Matt Kenyon / SWAMP

Kenyon, who is also an associate professor at the University of Michigan, isn’t just interested in archiving the pads for posterity.

“Every letter sent to the government is recorded, archived, and filed,” he explained at the TED conference in Vancouver, Canada. With every letter sent, the sheets of paper are activated, acting like Trojan horses that carry the names of the fallen into the national record.

“I started this project in 2007 but I felt that it was appropriate to present it again, given the fact that the US just reauthorized military operations in Iraq,” Kenyon tells Quartz. “For the price of postage, I’m happy to send them to anyone interested in helping spread the word.”

Subscribe to the Daily Brief, our morning email with news and insights you need to understand our changing world.