Culture Vulture – Ikebana

The Japanese have a very interesting way of calling things, making them appear extraordinary, almost exotic; the word ‘Ikebana’ is something on these lines. It’s an interesting way to start a conversation with the word ‘Ikebana’ innocently dropped into the mix; if you hang out with a few average IQ-ed people, it’s quite possible that 75% (let me make that 80%) of them won’t know what ‘Ikebana’ really is, making you look like the epitome of intelligence. And that’s how you steal the limelight!

“Enough with the suspense already”, you say. “It’s killin’ me”. Yeah, right!

Ikebana is nothing but the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Having been totally Ikebana-illiterate for so long, I accidentally happened to attend a Japanese Cultural Event at the Arts Council, Karachi, Pakistan today. Curiosity got the better of me and upon returning, I came in and wikipedia-ed the word. The Japanese might have difficult words for such things, but it’s rightly so, for this really is a true art-form; I never knew arranging flowers was more than just filling a vase with tap-water and carelessly shoving in a gorgeous floral arrangement you got from that special someone. The thought that goes into making these spectacular works of art and the strict structural guidelines one needs to follow is quite intimidating; needless to say, I’m not taking up Ikebana anytime soon. Having said that, these gorgeous pieces, ranging from a mere inches to a few feet in height, took my breath away.

Enough with the talk; let’s look at some of the masterpieces on display at the exhibition and feast our eyes, shall we?

NOTE: ‘Culture Vulture’ is a new segment I am introducing on my blog; the word Vulture signifies my passion for culture, even if it’s in the form of leftovers or scraps. Plus, the word Vulture in Urdu is used to put emphasis on an existing word (in this case, culture – note that they rhyme).

The Peace of Paper

Floral Kirigami Ball

Look around you: there’s despair everywhere. Entertainment just isn’t what it used to be back in the good old days. Watching television is like taking a depressant; a pill that drags you down into the abyss of melancholy, draining out all your optimism and leaving you with a sense of hopelessness. Same is the situation with other entertainment media; be it a viral Youtube video of two brothers being mercilessly beaten by a heartless mob or a newspaper article tallying the number of buses burned in the previous night’s riots. Sure, there are a few avenues promoting light entertainment, but invariably, you end up tuning into one of the news channels to verify whether there’s a strike tomorrow or not, or how many lives were extinguished in the city of lights today. We are so wrapped up in this entertainment (seriously?!) revolution that we fail to recognize a multitude of activities that can help nurture our constructive side and even introduce a degree of calmness in our otherwise chaotic existence.

Paper is perhaps one of the most readily available materials on earth and believe it or not, can be used to make beautiful creations. The various sizes, colors, thicknesses, and textures of paper make it a unique medium to work with. As kids, most of us would have folded a boat using a sheet of square paper; that’s Origami! Origami (meaning ‘paper folding’) is an ancient Japanese art-form that can be traced back to 17th Century AD, but was popularized outside of Japan in the mid 1900s [1]. The main idea behind Origami is to take a flat sheet of paper and fold it into a finished sculpture using basic folding techniques. The use of any glue, threads or scissors to create/stabilize the sculpture is a taboo for Origami practitioners. A variation of Origami called Kirigami (meaning ‘paper cutting’) allows the use of scissors to create your sculptures [2].

Origami is universally associated with peace. An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand Origami cranes shall be granted a wish by the crane. A little girl named Sadako Sasaki (January 7, 1943 – October 25, 1955) contracted leukemia after being exposed to the radiations from the Hiroshima bombing on August 6, 1945 [3]. She was only 12 when her disease progressed to a terminal stage. It’s an age where you still haven’t let go of the possibility of a miracle, so on the insistence of a close friend, Sadako started folding paper cranes with whatever paper she could get her hands on. Unfortunately, Sadako could only make 644 before meeting her maker. Her friends and classmates finished folding the remaining cranes after her death. Now every year on August 6, while Hiroshima conducts a Peace Memorial Ceremony, people from around the world send paper cranes in batches of 1000 to commemorate the child’s tragic death and her words:

“I will write ‘Peace’ on your wings and you will fly all over the world”

I started practicing Origami in1998, but went on hiatus from 1999 to 2007.  It all changed in 2008 when I was inspired to fold a single paper crane after watching a TV show; and I haven’t looked back since. I started working on more complex and challenging designs and in most cases, finished off the models. Once I start working on a model, I lose all track of time. An unnatural calm surrounds me; the only thing I focus on are the folds, taking each step carefully, making sure I don’t make any mistakes. I’ve made stars and center pieces, cubes and cranes, dodecahedrons and icosahedrons, arabesques and florals; I just can’t seem to get enough. Sparing free time gets increasingly difficult but I find an hour here, a minute there to work on my latest project. The video below shows images of some of the models I’ve made:

Origami’s many positive attributes have been researched for quite some time now. A brief list follows [4]:

  1. Nurtures creative, inventive and constructive abilities
  2. Develops motor skills
  3. Helps your visual and spatial co-ordination
  4. Explains geometric and angular relationships elegantly
  5. Makes you more patient and attentive
  6. Instills a sense of pride and joy when you finish a model

In this uber-destructive world we live in, we should promote constructive concepts. Origami is just one road that can lead to inner peace and tranquility; there are other art forms that help take your mind off the current state of affairs. I think it is high-time we started talking about something other than all the bad things happening around us. I don’t want my daughter to come up to me one day and say, “Papa! I want a gun that goes bang-bang-bang”; I’d rather want her to walk up to me and say, “Papa! I’m out of paper.”

Note: ‘Peace’ in this article refers to peace within as well as peace in general, because we cannot attain global peace unless we have inner peace. 

References:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origami
[2] 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirigami
[
3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadako_Sasaki
[
4] http://factoidz.com/why-you-should-adopt-origami-for-skill-development-among-children/