The Origins of Kirigami

Kirigami Pop Up Card

The word Kirigami is actually a modern Japanese term that takes its influence from the art of paper folding known as origami. Today, Kirigami is widely associated with paper cutting, folding and handmade pop-up cards. The etymology of the word comes from the Japanese ‘kiru’: to cut, and ‘gami’: paper.

Kirigami has its roots in ‘jian zhi’, the original Chinese papercutting art that dates back to the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. – two centuries after the invention of paper in China. In Japan, ‘jian zhi’ appeared in the 7th century and gave rise to origami and subsequently, kirigami. Kirigami is still used today in the Shinto religion for special ceremonies.

Originally, ‘jian zhi’ was mainly practicsed in monasteries due to the high cost of paper, and the subjects of its art were all religious. Nowadays, ‘jian zhi’ can encompass a variety of different papercutting techniques and is used to decorate the home during such events as the Chinese Lunar New Year or Spring Festival.

Kirigami - The Art of Cutting & Folding Paper
The Art of Cutting & Folding Paper

Over the centuries, this Oriental art form has spread throughout the world. There is even evidence of it in Europe dating back to the 17th century. Throughout various cultures it has inspired many new and different techniques, including:

  • ‘spizenbild’ or lace pictures cut from paper and mainly practised by nuns in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and France who considered papercutting to be a meditative or contemplative technique.
  • the art of the sihouette in France and Switzerland with ‘tableaux en découpures’ (large prints cut in vellum) popularised by Jean Huber in the 18th century.
  • shadow portraits, popular in the 19th century.
  • ‘wycinanki’, a traditional and popular Polish fold craft comprising paper cutouts in bright colours. Used to decorate homes during the main religious festivals and family celebrations.
  • ‘ketubah’, traiditional Jewish prenuptial agreements cut by artis and combining cutouts calligraphy and painting.

There are many contemporary artists, painters and visual artists who have used, and still use, the techniques of papercutting in their works including Matisse, Kara Walker, and many more.

(Source: Kirigami The Art of Cutting & Folding Paper)

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