Origami is an ancient Japanese art form that has found its way into the hearts and lives of many people around the world. In Cape Town, artist and Guinness World Record-holder JooJ is tearing up the art scene. Here’s how it all unfolded for him.

How did you get interested in origami and where did you learn how to do it?

Like every child – when folding my first paper airplane, paper folding interested me. I was a teenager when an uncle sat me down to watch “Blade Runner” and there’s an origami unicorn in that film that left a fair impression on my youthful mind. I learned the technique the same way everyone learns life’s lessons these days, university. I’m kidding, YouTube and an origami app taught me what I know.

Take us through your process of creating a new piece from scratch.

I still start old school style with pencil on paper. First I need to sketch out what I am going to do. Then I calculate the amount of butterflies I’ll need and in what sizes, in order to complete the drawing. Then I cut up the paper and start folding the butterflies child labour style – once my fingers stop working and my forearms give up.

I can fold about two hundred and fifty butterflies in a day. Once I have what I feel is enough I’ll have the drawing blown up to fill an A0 page, and printed. After placing the butterflies roughly on the paper to get a direction feel in terms of how the swarm will move, I start gluing. I keep going until my back struggles standing up straight again. My process always feels slow and antiquated which is why I crack a whip and force the labour otherwise it’s easy to walk away and go play outside.

Is this art form fairly popular in South Africa, or would you say it should be developed more?

Origami has some South African support. There is an online community that exists and there are some extremely creative South Africans working with paper. My particular brand of art is a mad mix of wall art and constructive art. I have taken origami and infused it with kusudama to emulate spray paint over a stencil.

And yes pop-art with origami can stand to be developed more in South Africa. South Africa is trapped in a cultural bubble and art struggles to stretch further than what’s been done before. So there’s lots of repetition. But the country is not devoid of embracing different art forms.. it just feels too niche. Our street art is fantastic which is something I am always emulating. Look around, the free art is always the best.

If one were to be on the hunt for the origami Mecca – is it Japan? Or are there other countries in the world that have taken a strong interest?

The Origami mecca is within us all. How corny is that? But sometimes the truth is full-on corn so hear me out. The creation process of origami has a meditative quality to it. In the beginning it seems stressful as you’re trying to figure out exactly what the folds are but once you do it again the process starts to become meditative. It doesn’t stop there, once you have a collection of completed pieces, placing them on display will carry a relaxing energy quite similar to a water feature only without the sound. I recommend everyone tried origami to gain a more in-tune perspective on oneself.

What is the purpose of art? Does it have to have a purpose or can it exist purely for its own sake?

As a creative I believe certain art pieces can speak so heavily to an individual it’s not something one can put into words as it’s just too personal. It certainly has a purpose as it is an indelible reflection on a society’s progress and success. However does every individual piece carry as much purpose? Probably not.

Art is like money, it’s only as important as you make it. As an artist trying to make a buck, art is the most important thing in the world and if you don’t spend a certain amount of your hard earned cash on local art every year you are doing a disservice to your soul. As a person trying to get by every year, the best art is the ones I don’t have to pay for.  It’s a conundrum.

How did you manage to make a living during lockdown and how has Covid affected your work?

I broke the Guinness World Record at the end of 2019 for the largest display of origami butterflies which I called The Merlin Wall. It consisted of 10 panels of perspex that encased the loose butterflies used to break the record. We dismantled the wall just before lockdown. Some of the panels that made up the wall were sold.

That got me through lockdown. That and eBucks. Covid did cut the glory of breaking a Guinness World Record short however it did not stop me from sketching and drawing and planning my return.  Getting into the Guinness World Record Book for 2021 did reignite some of the elation over the hard work.

Any exciting projects in the future we can look forward to?

I folded 29 416 butterflies to break the world record, I am using those butterflies to create a collection. So far I have been working on a massive South African flag that consists of five panels of 2m x 1m perspex sheets, also, on five panels of similar sized perspex is a set of wings that will be the most interactive art where the art comes to life with a subject standing in front of a colourful 4m wingspan.

Lastly a collection of silhouettes. Smaller 1m x 1,5m panels with Pop culture references that stretch back from the 1970’s to today. This would be a collection compromised entirely from the group used to break the record and all come with a certificate to prove it. I am hoping to be finished by the beginning of the last quarter of this year, so far on schedule.

A collection of his work is on display at the moment for the month of April at the Ideas Cartel, 113 Loop Street.

For more information, visit his website here. 

Picture: JooJ

Article written by

Anita Froneman