Artist Himanshu Agrawal unfolds new possibilities within the ancient Japanese art of origami.
On the face of it, the ancient Japanese art of origami appears to be the least demanding art form of all. With just a piece of paper – even a bus ticket – it’s possible to create a charming work of art. A fold here, a fold there and voila, you have a paper boat in seconds. Then again, if you want to progress beyond the elementary paper boat you’ll need a lot more than just a scrap of paper.
Himanshu Agrawal, a professional origami artist, says, “Origami is all about having infinite patience, a mind for mathematical equations and strong visualisation powers.” For many of us who may have struggled with an origami rabbit or butterfly in the past, it comes as a relief to hear Himanshu assert that origami demands practice and perseverance. At the same time, it’s hard to shake off the lingering suspicion that some hands are unfairly more blessed than others.
The Mumbai-based artist reveals that he was first bitten by the origami bug in 1989 when gifted with a book on paper planes. Since then it’s been a magical adventure of learning to fold two-dimensional sheets of paper into three-dimensional butterflies, frogs, lizards and other animals. While elaborate, large-scale origami models are Himanshu’s forte, his elegant horses, birds and other creatures too frame a vision of loveliness.
It wasn’t easy getting here though, he confesses. “The biggest challenge for me was lack of instruction, interaction, books and material. Over the years, I built up my origami library one book at a time and today I have more than 1500 books. I have papers collected by me from all over the world but I actually began with the humble notebook paper, bus tickets and the like.”
Despite its popularity, origami remains an underrated art form and artists like Himanshu are often compelled to take on alternative jobs to bolster their income. Working as a writer, voiceover artist and ELT trainer, Himanshu has nevertheless been fortunate to be featured across leading dailies, décor magazines and design journals. He has even appeared on television and is often invited abroad to display his consummate paper-folding skills.
Now his latest preoccupation is with pushing the boundaries of origami, of taking it into the realm of sculpture or perhaps vice-versa. He says, “Now I focus more on the sculptural aspects of origami and am one of six people in the world who have explored folding masks in the style of classical sculpture.”
This new, hybrid version of origami is far more challenging than the original rigid and linear style because it cannot be pre-planned entirely. “You have to have a very clear vision”, elaborates Himanshu, “and then improvise on the go.”
An origami artist must also be well-informed about the raw material at his disposal. “The paper chooses the model,” says the artist. “I travel a lot in search of the perfect paper. I recently visited Jaipur to check out the banana and cotton paper being produced at the paper mills there.” His favourite, he reveals is the handmade Lokta paper from Nepal.
As a material, paper has a strong memory and a crease in the wrong place is impossible to undo. What’s more, paper is also springy and once you start you simply have to keep going till it is done. “I once took 12 hours to fold a frog,” says the artist matter-of-factly.
There’s not a shred of doubt that Himanshu is immensely talented. What he also possesses in dollops is passion and stamina to keep pushing the limits of origami. The prolific artist has five entries in the Limca Book of Records, one of which is for creating the tallest origami dinosaur; a 30-foot creature that was completed with 103 moves and 70 creases in a period of 12 hours.
It’s in the battle against plagiarism that he finds himself on the back foot. As a member of a global council initiated to protect the intellectual property rights of origami artists, Himanshu looks forward to soon being able to copyright his original designs. If the council does indeed succeed in passing their copyright laws, origami artists like Himanshu will finally get the respect and recognition they deserve.
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Courtesy Himanshu Agrawal