What started out as a vision and a dream a couple of years ago has materialized into an award-winning exhibit of origami at the Charles B. Wang Center, demonstrating community involvement, inclusion, diversity and the spirit of PRIDE.
“I’m always thinking of ways to expand my lifelong interest in origami and apply it to different goals,” said Elizabeth Argiro, founder and president of the university’s Origami Club. “One of the most important things I believe any of us can do is give back to the community.”
Jinyoung Jin, director of cultural programs for the Wang Center, was more than happy to help this special project take flight. “Origami is a significant part of traditional Japanese culture and it celebrates so many disciplines,” Jin said, noting that it fits in very well with current exhibits, which include Japanese contemporary bamboo baskets, and fabric and wood origami art. “When we installed this display, it was so impressive to see the gigantic scale of such intricate, small components. It was also a great way to display an LGBTQ theme, which speaks so well to many students.”
Argiro pointed to one piece, Daniel Quasar’s “Progress” PRIDE flag, as a symbol that resonates with many club members who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. “Having that and another piece of art accepted at Wang has been a perfect way to share our craftsmanship and message with people, which I’m always passionate about,” she said.
In addition to the flag, a colorful, cylindrical-shaped hanging mobile invites viewers to step inside and become part of the installation, “welcoming them into the community,” as Argiro put it. Among the many special messages behind the exhibit is the fact that both pieces of art were created with 1,000 paper cranes each, or in Japanese, “senbazuru.”
“Cranes are a very traditional icon of Japan, associated with wishes and hope and healing,” explained Argiro. According to Japanese legend, those who fold 1,000 cranes are granted a wish. The legend was popularized internationally when Sadako Sasaki — a Japanese girl who was a victim of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — created 1,000 cranes during her subsequent hospitalization up until her tragic death at the age of 12. “I read the novel written about her in elementary school and it always stuck with me,” said Argiro.
Working closely with Argiro was Origami Club Vice President Giuseppina Than, a biomedical engineering/applied mathematics and statistics major who helped develop the detailed plan proposal for the Wang exhibit. They got the “Cranes for a Cause Initiative” project off the ground by summoning the assistance of 14 student-run clubs across campus and the broader Stony Brook community, in addition to members of the nearly 200-strong Origami Club itself.
Besides being symbolic, Argiro said the paper cranes are fairly easy to make. “You can teach people to make them in about 15 minutes. And you get quicker and quicker the more you fold.” At her best, Argiro said she can fold a crane in about a minute and a half (but who’s counting).
Than said, “It was very important to Elizabeth, so I wanted to help make it happen as a friend. When we reached out to get people involved, we saw the interest right away, with about 60 members signing up immediately. To know we could make people so happy — both viewers and participants — has been amazing!”
Community Coming Together
At the recent 2022-2023 Jerrold L. Stein Student Life Awards ceremony, the Origami Club won the Program of the Year award for “Cranes for a Cause,” and Argiro won the Theresa Montenaro 200% Student Leadership Award for her work with the club.
“There were over 400 total nominations for all of the awards, representing over 60 student-run organizations, so we’re quite proud of our winnings!” said Argiro.
Coordinator for Student Engagement and Activities Gillian Farnan is Origami Club program advisor and also served on the selection committee for the awards. She said, “’Cranes for a Cause’ stood out to our judges because of its unique approach to a very simple concept of folding paper. And it shows how community can be brought together to create amazing displays of art. Seeing how different organizations on campus helped make this event happen also provides a snapshot of how collaborative student life at Stony Brook is and can continue to be.”
From a more personal perspective, she added, “It was great to advise the club as they were working to make the project bigger and better, and I can’t wait to see what they do next year with this program!”
The Origami Club thanks the following collaborators who made this installation possible: LGBT+ Alliance, Japanese Student Organization, Project Sunshine, Baan Thai Club, Artists in Medicine, Tau Beta Pi Honor Society, Science Fiction Forum, Hand Hall Council, Music and Medicine, UNICEF at SBU, Asian American and Pacific Islanders Mentorship Network, Undergraduate Anthropology Society, Dumbledore’s Army, Taiwanese Students Association, Origami Club faculty advisor Professor Nobuho Nagasawa, and artist Karen Celella.
— Ellen Cooke