Art of origami on display

Crane Garland by Miri Golan (Photo by Vivian Nguyen/NWAW)

By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly

Elegantly folded animals, pentagonal prisms, and architectural creations line the halls at “Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami,” the latest exhibition to debut at the Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM) in Bellevue.

The show explores the history and evolution of paper folding and features 140 creations from 45 master folders from around the world, including Japan, the U.S., and Russia. Designed to be an immersive exploration, the show includes videos, photographs, and books, as well as interactive opportunities to fold paper.

Origami, or Japanese paper folding, began centuries ago in Japan, most likely through religious ceremonies and rituals. It also served as a recreational activity for court nobility.

Meanwhile, a form similar to origami began in Europe. The two forms merged in the 19th century when the Japanese adopted the German kindergarten schooling system founded by Friedrich Fröbel, a German paper folder. Paper folding eventually spread to the general population.

Though people commonly associate origami as a children’s arts and crafts pastime, the exhibition aims to showcase its modern-day application in the fields of mathematics, engineering, fashion, and even the global peace movement.

For Stefano Catalani, director of art, craft, and design at BAM, “Folding Paper” reveals origami as an art form that also shapes daily life. Visitors may be surprised to learn how everyday items, such as a folded airbag, a street map, or a heart stent, are all examples of modern origami that combine the craft with architecture, math, and science.

“Spiked Rhombic Enneacontahedron” by Tom Hull (Photo by Nancy Marshall)

“Origami requires discipline,” said Catalani. “It demands the hands and mind of the person folding paper. Even though it began as a children’s activity, its purpose was to train kids how to discipline their hands and minds for mathematical precision. It’s not by chance that kids were educated through origami.”

The exhibition is divided into four sections: the history of origami, representations of animals and angels in folded paper, geometric forms and conceptual constructions, and a final section where visitors can explore origami’s impact on science, fashion, and more.

One display features three white paper animals: a moose, a hawk, and a scorpion. Folded by origami artist Dr. Robert J. Lang, a curatorial assistant for “Folding Paper,” the animals look simple enough to fold. Yet, what most people don’t realize are the countless folds that go into creating a single origami work — an oversight that does not come across in the final product.

“There are hundreds of folds that go into one piece, and you don’t see the process that goes into it — how something so diminutive requires so much control of the hand and discipline of the mind,” said Catalani.

“There’s also inventiveness. The willingness of the origami artist to create new designs despite being told it cannot be done.”

Visitors may notice a wreath of cranes hanging in one section of the exhibition. The cranes, folded from Hebrew and Arabic newspapers, represent peace, and were folded by Israeli origami activist and artist Miri Golan.

Golan was inspired by the well-known story of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl who folded one thousand cranes to overcome leukemia as a result of exposure sustained during the Hiroshima bombing in 1945. Sasaki believed in a Japanese legend that described how sick people could chase away illness by folding one thousand paper cranes. Despite her attempts, Sasaki passed away in 1955. A statue was later erected in her honor at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan, and garlands of cranes permanently adorn the statue. Origami cranes are now a symbol for world peace.

“Origami is also about imagination and fantasy. The ability to create something that is also fascinating to others,” said Catalani, speaking about the origami crane.

“With Golan’s cranes, you see how a simple Japanese art form has not only become a symbol of world peace, but has been repurposed by an Israeli artist. Japan and Israel are so different from each other, and this is the message I see about origami: its ability to transcend the craft itself and become a strong art form to the world. It can be both craft and art.”

“Folding Paper” is developed and curated by Meher McArthur with tour organized by the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, and International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC. Dr. Lang serves as an artist and exhibition advisor. The exhibit runs at the Bellevue Art Museum thru September 21. (end)

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Vivian Nguyen can be reached at

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