“My son and I took on what seemed like a simple project: fold one origami crane every day during the pandemic. Together, we discovered over the year how making art helps people bear the unbearable.” This is exactly what our community at FOCUS Magazine and Galleries works toward: using the ART of photography in SL to help people bear the unbearable, during isolation due to covid and beyond.”
By Grace Loh Prasad, July 26, 2021
Inspired by a recent visit to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, I came up with the idea to fold an origami crane for every day we were in isolation. I thought that maybe we’d get to 100.
[My son] had developed an interest in origami long before I did and he patiently taught me how to fold the cranes. Given the absence of summer camp and an inability for him to see his friends, I was happy for any activity that didn’t involve screens.
Our first milestone — 100 days of lockdown — fell on June 22. We posted photos of our 100 cranes arranged in a mandala-like shape on our dining room table. After I posted the first photo on Twitter, many people responded with exclamations: “Wow!” and “Amazing!” Several people pointed out the deeper significance of the cranes.
The Japanese legend of senbazuru says that a person who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be granted a wish. It’s often a team effort and the cranes are given as gifts to bestow good luck, long life or healing. The tradition was popularized by the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima who folded paper cranes while hospitalized for radiation-induced leukemia. Traditionally a symbol of longevity, the crane has also come to represent hope and a wish for peace. Of course, if we ever made it to 1,000 cranes, I knew what my wish would be: that the pandemic would end and we’d not have to fold another crane to mark even a single extra day.
It was also a way to teach Devin about perseverance — the repetitive labor felt tedious at times but we were rewarded with beautiful photos as we completed each stage of the project. As the number of cranes grew it also gave us some perspective on the magnitude and strangeness of our ongoing experience.
Art that responds to tragedy has a long history — think of Picasso’s anguished “Guernica” lamenting the Spanish Civil War, or Ai Weiwei’s “Remembering,” an installation of thousands of colorful backpacks on the outside of Munich’s Haus der Kunst memorializing more than 5,000 schoolchildren who died in the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China. But one doesn’t have to be an artist with a capital “A” to make art in times of upheaval.
One of the most moving examples of creative expression in response to adversity is the art made by Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. Inmates made their own furniture and tools out of leftover lumber, wood crates and any scrap materials they could find, then turned to making art to help pass the time: intricate wood carvings, paintings, sculptures, quilts, jewelry and other items. “The Art of Gaman,” a book and traveling art exhibit by Delphine Hirasuna, featured more than 150 of these artworks. Gaman is a Japanese term that means to bear the unbearable with patience and dignity.
Ultimately, when I look at the cranes now, boxed up, they exist to me as a symbol of hope and resilience and of what still remains. Each one represents a day we survived.