Origami is the Japanese name for the ancient art of creating elaborate figures with nothing more than your hands and a square or rectangular piece of paper. It is hard to imagine, by looking at these pieces, that it ispossible to create such intricate forms using this deceivingly simple technique. Kunihiko Kasahara and Tomoko Fuse are perhaps the most famous origami masters of today. However, origami has become an international art.
Sipho Mabona (1979) is a contemporary origami master of African descent from Lucerne, Switzerland. His childhood passion for making paper airplanes has evolved into the most diverse designs of insect, animals, humans and even extra terrestrial paper creatures. His work is exhibited worldwide and has received numerous awards and accolades. Furthermore, he has developed whimsical ad campaigns for international brands. What began as a hobby has replaced his teaching job as his only source of income. We delve into his exiting and meticulous work.
What is the source of your interest for this ancient art form?
I have always liked arts and crafts. When I was a little boy, I used to spend my leisure time building or painting things: bows and arrows, airplanes, etc. I later began showing interest in reading instructions for folding paper. When I realized I had a talent for origami, I was immediately hooked.
You were born in Switzerland, but your passion has roots in a very distant land. How was your work received in Japan?
To be honest, they saw my origami work when I had already been involved with it seven or eight years. By then, I had developed a few fairly sophisticated models. That must have impressed them because they asked me to be the guest of honor at the annual Origami Convention in Tokyo.
You have built complex installations and ad campaigns for international brands. In which area do you feel more comfortable?
Frankly, I feel most comfortable doing my own creations. I can express my thoughts and feelings through my art. It allows me to ask questions of myself. When I accept a commission, most of the time, my main concern is to execute the wishes of my clients.
In your work there is obviously an aesthetic message. Is there also an ethical message?
I am very proud of my own work. However, aesthetics have taken a back seat. I prefer to present the contemporary issues that affect our society through my artwork.
His latest collaboration was Origami In the Pursuit of Perfection, for shoe label Asics. How do corporations relate to origami?
It depends on the client and the job. As a rule, I do not come in direct contact with the big companies; I speak with agents or agencies. These conversations can be somewhat unpleasant, since they require too much time and often lead to misunderstandings. Nevertheless, a large budget can buy the help of assistants and the necessary equipment that often leads to great results and a higher profile for my work.
The origami canon rejects the use of scissors, glue or staples. How do you achieve such complexity of design without using any tools?
It may take a week or several months to develop a new design. Then you have to continue polishing and refining it for many years. Once you understand and master the origami design principles, the most important tools are experience and practice.
Is origami an art without borders?
Yes. Although its aesthetics are deeply rooted in Japanese culture, I personally think that the message can be universal: change, evolution, the ephemeral nature of things and hope. For me, those are the standards of universal life, and origami represents them all.
One of your achievements has been to bring a modern sensibility to an ancient art. Does origami have a place in Pop culture?
When I see the media coverage of origami, especially in advertising and on the Internet, I believe it is starting to catch up with Pop culture. But we must give it a further thrust to make sure it gets there. ■
PHOTO: Fabian Biasio / www.biasio.com