Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Origami finds unique expression in Gaza

Issam Adwan | 04-03-2019

Ahmed Hamid (right) with the origami WANN logo and and Issam Adwan, the We Are Not Numbers special projects coordinator.

The young man sits at a small table. He cradles an old book, contemplating it as the sound of Dutch DJ Martin Garrix’ music fills the air—a source of inspiration, he says. He is about to transform the cast-aside book into a piece of art. His art form: the ancient Japanese paper-folding technique called origami.

Eighteen hours later, with maybe a few breaks (he doesn’t remember), he is finished: An image of the We Are Not Numbers logo now springs from the 700-page book.

Ahmed Hamid, now 29, first learned about origami when surfing Instagram and he stumbled upon some amazing images of the art form. He began researching this type of art, watching many videos demonstrating how it is done. Ahmed was particularly inspired by Japanese origami artist Yuto Yamaguchi (known on Instagram as D. Hinklay), who specializes in book folding. They struck up an “Instagram friendship” and Yuto encouraged Ahmed to try creating origami himself, offering many tips.

“I’ve communicated with a lot of people who have tried once or twice to create their own origami creations using books, but Ahmed has stayed with it,” says Yuto. “I like his dedication and passion. I’m truly proud of him and of the fact that I influenced his art.”

The We Are Not Numbers logo in origami

Ahmed’s first challenge was to find old books he could purchase at a low price, which he eventually found by trolling public street markets, such as Alzawia in Gaza City. He found an old shop run by Abu Jamel with lots of antique books for which there was no demand; Ahmed was able to negotiate a cost per book of just 5 shekels ($1.20). It took 15 hours of trial and error before Ahmed finally produced his first piece—an image of the Arabic letter “هـ” (which sounds like the letter “h” in English). Arabic letters are like mini works of art and Ahmed chose this letter simply because he liked its “lines.”  Later, he began sculpting full Arabic words using origami. His first was “حياة”—which means life, a testament to his growing hope for the future despite the despair around him. Although there are many other origami artists around the world, Ahmed is the first to incorporate Arabic letters and words.

“I showed my art to my friends and others on social media. They asked me to create origami books for them with special letters or names to share with their followers,” he recalls. “That’s how I began to turn this passion into a source of livelihood.”

Ahmed is unemployed, so any extra income is needed. He charges 50-200 shekels ($14-$55) for each creation, depending on the book’s size and number of pages. (That compares to the approximately $400 an artist outside of Gaza, like Yuto, would charge. His success also is due, he says, to support from his family, especially his mother, and close friends who have helped obtain books and constantly encourage him.

Ahmed uses Instagram to market his talent. Other requests he receives now are for company or organization logos. As the requests increase, he faces new challenges, like accommodating larger, more complicated designs, especially when books have fewer pages. Ahmed is learning calligraphy now to further enhance his talent.

“I have failed in many projects because I lacked the experience,” he admits. But he is improving every day.

Ahmed’s dream is to hold an exhibition outside of Gaza, although the Israeli-Egyptian blockade makes travel very difficult, if not impossible, for most.

"I want to show that despite our challenges, young people in the Gaza Strip and Palestine are capable of creativity and generating happiness,” he explains.  "I am working with the French Center in Gaza to establish the first exhibition of origami art, and my ambition is to make my way from here to the world."

Ahmed, however, is only one of many talented artists and performers in Gaza, looking for opportunities to show themselves. Every day gives birth to new talent, refined by pain they must overcome to succeed.

Posted: March 3, 2019

Mentor: Pam Bailey

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