After working for eight hours in his father’s courier office, Saugat Rajbhandari often returns home exhausted. Yet he still makes time to fold paper every night, a hobby he discovered nearly a decade ago. “There are nights when I keep folding paper until 1am,” says 28-year-old Rajbhandari. “Although it can get monotonous, just the fact that I can make art by folding paper gives me immense happiness and keeps me motivated.”
Origami, the art of folding paper, is traditionally a product of Japanese culture, but it also has its roots in Chinese and European culture. However, it was Akira Yoshizawa, a well-known Japanese origamist, who popularized the art of folding papers and creating well-sculpted works of art through his works in the 80s.
Following his techniques, many famous origami artists in the world are now appreciated and people today regard origami as a work of art that is beyond just a piece of craftsmanship. And in Nepal, Rajbhandari is among the handful of names that create deft and intricate 3D origami artwork.
According to Rajbhandari, it was in 2011 that he fell in love with the art of origami. “A YouTube recommendation to make a 3D origami of a swan was on my feed. I found the whole process interesting and thought I’d give it a try,” he says.
Although it took him nearly a week to recreate the swan, as his hands were new to the whole process of patiently folding the papers, the end product was satisfying, he says. “My family and friends loved it. Their appreciation pushed me and I felt I had found a new hobby to pursue,” says Rajbhandari.
For nearly four years, he continued to recreate origami artwork by learning YouTube tutorials. It was in 2015, after gaining confidence and discipline, and developing enough patience, that he decided to start creating his own creations.
“I wanted to make a figurine of the Eiffel Tower. There were no tutorials available at the time, but I was determined to do it,” says Rajbhandari, who made a two-foot figure of the famous world tour.
In the tutorials, information such as the color of paper to use and the number to use would be provided, so Rajbhandari had to do little calculations when designing. However, when he moved on to creating his own designs, he had to do all the calculations, such as how many sheets of paper to use, which differed depending on the height and width as well as the structure of the art. that he realized.
In 2017, he made a figurine of famous Bollywood actor, Deepika Padukone, which started gaining him recognition on social media. “I was a huge fan of her and followed her work from the beginning of her career,” says Rajbhandari, who was blown away watching Padukone’s debut performance as Shantipriya in the movie “Om Shanti Om “, which led him to create a figurine on his character that took more than 5500 units of paper, he says.
Then in 2018, he made another figurine of Padukone, another famous character, ‘Padmavati’ from the film ‘Padmaavat’. The figurine was also a big hit on social media, with people appreciating his talent for meticulously shaping the figurine while adding intricate designs.
He also designed four figurines of the winners of Miss Nepal 2018 – Shrinkhala Khatiwada, Manita Devkota, Priya Sigdel and Ronali Amatya – in the costumes they wore during the nationwide tour of various pageants. When asked why he made the figurines, he says he was inspired by their hard work. “The four winners represented Nepal in the best possible way. Their hard work has inspired many young people like me. Likewise, the costumes they wore also reflected our culture,” says Rajbhandari, who invested three months to make the figures which had over 8,000 pocket units each.
Apart from celebrity figurines, he has also created cartoon characters like minions, pokemon, and Winne the Pooh. Last year, the Japanese Embassy in Nepal, in November, had given him the opportunity to present some of his works during an exhibition organized in Kathmandu.
Origami as an art form has not evolved in Nepal because there are not enough artists and markets for the art, and that is why there is a general perception of it. consider it as a simple piece of craftsmanship. However, Rajbhandari says origami is not just about folding papers and it requires patience, discipline and even a talent for math.
“When we create works of art, we have to be careful how we place the sleeves made from the papers. Likewise, we have to plan how many pockets we might need and apply various techniques depending on the design of the art,” he says.
For example, to create a two-foot figurine, he places nearly 100 units of paper triangles with pockets (made by folding pieces of paper) as a base, then puts them together with glue. Then slowly he begins to add more paper triangles on top, reducing the number according to his calculation to ensure that the required shape and structure of the art comes together.
However, as a freelance artist, he also has to work with limitations and sometimes compromise on his art. From an A4 sheet of paper, he can create 32 rectangles of paper measuring 5.2 cm by 3.5 cm. Later, these rectangles are folded into a triangular shape to make pockets. But since there is no easy availability of colored papers that can be easily worked with for his art, he has to compromise on colors, he says.
But that doesn’t stop him from doing what he loves. Even though he is not yet receiving any monetary benefits from doing origami, he is keen to continue, he says. “Many people have suggested that I sell my works as they are aesthetic. But I have never considered it from a business perspective as I hesitate to put a price on my works,” says Rajbhandari.
For him, doing origami is like meditating. “When I start folding papers at night after finishing all my work for the day, all my stress is relieved,” says Rajbhandari. “As someone who started origami as a hobby years ago, now it’s become a part of me. When I fold papers in order to do something, I feel to meditate, to concentrate all my energy with total discipline, to create something that becomes a means of expression.