Monday, January 22, 2024

Bird Impromptus

It pleases me these days to do pop-up displays: 20 minutes and you have a nice show of sculptures. Here's one that I threw together this afternoon for a bird-watching event at my eco-activist place, Beersheva's "Be'eri community farm": 

 Now I'm in a bar, looking over my things again in the poor light:

These are from the collection of bird models I've designed over the years. A very small fraction I have to say...

--- --- ---

Last week I did another quickie show when my local group, OrigamIsrael, did me the honor of coming to my city and holding its bi-monthly meeting at "Homa", my community-arts space:

There will be more of these I think.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Slow and Steady

It's not like I don't have an infinity of things to say about the currrent goings on in Israel, how I'm coping and so forth. But instead, I'll report just the incremental progress on the face-work: the results of my experiments these last weeks and months. I am trying to squeeze more control and expressive range out of this technology, which is still too unwieldy. --S.

"Pilgrim". An earlier state of this sculpture is up on my Flickr site.

"Notta Naughtsy"



Saturday, November 25, 2023

Desert Interlude


Camel-head study, by Saadya, 2011. 

Yesterday I was able to get to my desert spot in the Negev, the first time since hostilities broke out 7 weeks ago that I've ventured into nature's open, empty spaces. It's the nearest place by public transportation where I can feel free: a half-hour busride on the highway south of Beersheva, then a 12 minute walk into the desert as the traffic sights and sounds disappear. Always I rest my head on the root of this Eshel tree (Tamarix aphylla) knowing it and the desert

will work its charm and in fifteen minutes I'll be calmed from agitation, anxiety -- about employment, about my ailing parents, about Covid, about the government of criminals in Israel since January, now about this war, and the hostages one of whom I know (the actor Luis Har, born in Argentina, who I shared a stage with once). All these melt away, or can be thought of  from the right distance and closeness, from the right spans of time. Then I can walk farther into the glimmering rocks, and note the vestiges of past inhabitants, some from centuries ago, some from tens of thousands of years ago. No doubt they had struggles too, families, tribes, neighbors, survival, but that's all gone now, as I will be too for some future spectator. It is as well.   


 Look closely, you'll see stone ridges built by residents, some here a VERY long time ago.

Cutting-edge technologies: Flint tools and projectiles from around the Negev, some made 40,000 years ago. The one at far right is from this landscape (it cuts steak very nicely, I can attest). At left is a modern counterpart, a fragment of an Iron Dome arrowhead that fell on a street near me.

Negev Camels, by Saadya, 2005. 

ּ***Update:   On Feb 12, my acquaintance Luis Har and another hostage were miraculously freed, in a heroic IDF commando operation. 134 others are still in captivity, if they are alive. But it makes a difference, when its one who you know.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Agitation and Calm; Activity or is it Escapism


Head by Saadya, Oct 2023.
Folded from an uncut rectangle of watercolor paper.

[November 4, 2023.]  I’m processing lots. Like all my compatriots and I guess all of the Middle East. It's fair to ask, when I make time for origami, what I'm making time for, and what’s being set aside. Calm, is part of what the folding brings. It quells agitation and gives a kind of time-out, after which one is mentally refreshed. 

But there are positive activities that any citizen can and should get involved with these days. At Soroka hospital up the street are wounded soldiers and civilians; they have families staying with them in need of feeding, lodging, entertainment which could include origami, of children especially but not only. There are the fields west of here: much of the fresh produce in this country comes from areas near to Gaza, empty now of hands for the fall harvest and winter seeding. But I’m too old for a full day’s agricultural labor, and limit myself to neighborhood-garden plantings for the food crunch that will come in 3 months. Also I have aging parents in a bad way and obligations to care for them; I can’t just hand myself over to national causes. In the Dead Sea Hotel area which is close to me (mentally close for residents of the Negev; geographically not really closer than the big cities of Israel's “center”) are lodged residents displaced from the Gaza envelope towns and farms, tens of thousands of them; I’ve made arrangements to volunteer and should start with that soon. That may or may not involve origami: could be accompanying groups of bicyclists, could be teaching English, or other involvements, we’ll see. I'm socializing more in this period, both with my eco-activist urban-farm group (Beersheva’s Khavat Be’eri, what a team of Quiet Doers, real heroes!) which has stayed open and filled the gap left by the shuttered educational institutions, and with the art-activist group Homa that has also spearheaded activities.

In short I can’t say I’ve been doing much in the wartime contributions department beyond worry, like most of the civilian population.

When I say ‘do origami’ and ‘where does it fit in all this’ what do I mean. Well I have this endless, lifelong research project (i.e., obsession) to get cleaner and cleaner renditions of the human face, the human head; so I have piles of studies done at cafes on cheap paper (about 20 minutes apiece), the best of which are tested now at home on good paper (2-3 hours apiece, including the cutting & staining). I’m committed also to going back to some of my 

printer paper experiments

best animal model designs, even from 30 years ago, and finding the optimal size and colorations to make them with, again from the good paper (2-5 hours each). ‘Good paper’ means for me Arches 300g pure cotton watercolor paper with a mild grain: last week I finally bought a roll of this stuff at Uri’s Art Supplies (Uri stayed open, yay!!) 130 cm by 970 cm, so paper size is no longer a limitation. The material is so luxurious to handle, and as it dries transitions through stages with distinct folding properties and a wonderful solidity to the end-product. The plan is to get ready for a museum exhibition; details on that when things firm up. 

And finally there’s this scattershot origami teaching now, I go wherever the volunteers who are arranging these things assign me in the neighborhoods. I got an unexpected burst of joy on Thursday from teaching very tiny people—only two of the bunch had made it to seven years old… Hamas did me the honor of welcoming me just when I arrived at 4PM with some rockets to the skies right above—a pretty sight in the late afternoon. (Taken out by Iron Dome; sorry, didn’t think to snap a photograph). The little ones with their mothers all trooped out of the bomb shelter and were folding away calmly with me minutes later. Gotta love ’em.

 success with butterflies by Sanja S. Cucek

Monday, October 23, 2023

Folding Under Fire


It’s wartime here, like it or not; has been war in Ukraine & Russia almost two years now, will be in the China theater soon enough, and is coming soon maybe to a theater near you. I’ve decided to revive my Origami Blog.

Here’s a Horse I made on Saturday. My best yet. From a model first designed in 1993: so thirty years ago (have probably made a hundred), a design that’s since undergone three permutations, including the one this week.

Origami for me is: well there’s too much to say, but it’s carried me through some hard times, went with me into the hospital in 2022 for treatments to stage 2/3 cancer —mantle cell lymphoma — and out of that, for now. In this war it’s acquiring a strange intensity. I’m dusting off old models and designs: these ones are for soldiers, whiling away hours on the front; those ones are for me, to shed my emotions into as sculptures & go into museums later, maybe, if this house-and-studio doesn’t turn into rubble.

It gives a calm; isn’t a screen to watch, or the scream of a jet, wail of a siren, boom of a missile hitting concrete; is something to return to after these & figure out: a puzzle with lots of solutions, but few good ones. It teaches efficiency, economy, humility really, since it is just a piece of paper for just this moment, no one is going to value it if you don’t. Like your life.

I had this idea decades ago, when starting this Blog, that people can no longer hear each other, that words have stopped being effective, and images, videos, chattering heads, we already have too much of; our plastic arts in the galleries aren’t cutting it anymore for communication, unification, or for sparking us into action.

But origami — face it, doesn’t it electrify, when it’s good? Doesn’t it get the pulse of my blood into the paper, and from there into yours? Follow it along with your eye’s own fingers, and the heart that’s in them, and the mind too of course. The geometry and the passion. Take them in, just from the sight of a model, or if you’ve learned some paperfolding, make one of these for yourself.

Let’s see if we can’t thrill you.

Saadya Sternberg

Beersheva, Israel

Origami Horse, by Saadya, 2023.
 30 cm tall; stained & wetfolded from
 an uncut 91 cm square of Arches
cotton-rag watercolor paper. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Geometry of Expression

Garibi | Saadya | Toledano

20 December 2019 - 8 March, 2020
EMOZ Museum, Zaragoza, Spain

Ilan Garibi, bracelets
 in wood, silver and brass
This is a sweet exhibition, and it was a pleasure, despite the few bumps in the road, to get to Spain to set it up. EMOZ is Europe's only museum dedicated to origami and one of the few such in the world. It's a privilege to work with the museum professionals there who devote their lives to displaying our art.

With over 200 objects, the show's main theme is how one edge of modern origami is seguing today into the realms of design, fine art, engineering -- and the questions this shift raises. And the experiments,
to address those questions, that we three Israeli
exhibitors are making.
Saadya Sternberg, "Red Bust"
paperfold sculpture

For instance, what happens when the folded material is NOT paper — how is this to be done technically; how does it look; what is the relation with paperfolds; can the results ever be “fashion design” or “fine art; can this
new sort of folding-work start acquiring value in the marketplace and shake off origami's reputation of being a pastime and “sweet nothing” — while not losing all its fun... And so on.

So Ilan Garibi brought his origami-based 
Ynon Toledano,
"Reincarnation series"

jewelry and sculptures in folded steel, brass, silver, wood and glass (there's even paper); and Ynon Toledano brought his “surrealistic” things, and Yours Truly Saadya Sternberg  brought those head sculptures with minimized lines, meant to prompt old art-history questions about surface and line and emerging form. Lots of color and light and life in this space.

I also devoted one wall to some of my geometrical-mechanical discoveries, and especially to recent work done with my students at the Shamoon College of Engineering of Beersheva. There's a video of these inventions that for now I'm displaying only in the exhibition; once the show is down I'll post it for those who could not come.

If you are in Europe, come see the things in person “face to face.”


Rear: Ilan Garibi, Tessellations wall, paperfolds and folded-metal pendants
Front: Saadya Sternberg,  "White Molly", paperfold sculpture

Saadya Sternberg, "Mohawk", paperfold sculpture

Ilan Garibi, origami pendant, gold-plated brass

Saadya Sternberg, face study, wet-folded leather

Ynon Toledano, Surrealist Drama

Saadya Sternberg, Giraffe Head, paperfold sculpture

"Sarcophagus" display:  Ilan Garibi and Saadya Sternberg

Saadya Sternberg, "Sheet Lion", paperfold sculpture

Saadya Sternberg, "Classical Head"

Ilan Garibi, Tessellation in folded steel

Origami Robot by Dor Elmoznino and Ehud Yehiel, 4th-year students of mechanical engineering, Shamoon College of Engineering -- Beersheva

Monday, August 20, 2018

Life Imitates Art

Left: Still from the BBC's 2018-posted video. Right: my photo taken in 2007 of Roman Diaz's "Wild Horses"

The packages started arriving at my house, more than ten years ago, for the big Tikotin Museum exhibit. The mailman would ring at the gate and I'd leap. I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to get beautiful origami in the mail, gifts it seems like, every few days from some other corner of the world. Canada. Singapore. Spain. Vietnam! I'd cut open the carton, spread the things out on my table and ogle them. And from Roman Diaz of Uruguay--back then in 2007--came six paper horses with flowing manes and a striving look. There was no title; I gave his display the name “Wild Horses” and took the snapshot for my files. --This week I see, the BBC has been so kind as to stage a reenactment. It's a very great honor.

Have a great weekend

Thursday, September 28, 2017


"Ashurbanipal", by Saadya

on display in “Paper Heroes” 
Jaffa Museum, Israel
October 5 – December 30, 2017

Curator:  Ilan Garibi

Strap your sword upon a hero's thigh...” (Psalms 45: 4)

The king depicted here is not my hero. He is, however, the hero of my hero.

My hero is a Jewish poet who lived in the 7th century BCE in exile in Babylon, then moved to Jerusalem: one of the early Zionists. The poetry he wrote in both locations was to shape Jewish religious experience down through the ages, and many of his verses, whole and in fragments, have made their way into central portions of the Hebrew prayerbook. In their own day too they influenced contemporary Hebrew literary productions such as the Book of Yonah. Yes indeed: a hero of mine, all around.

His hero — for he uses that word to describe him in Psalm 45, a poem written for this king in the year 663 BCE, in Nineveh, on the occasion of his 'wedding' with the daughter of Tyre — was King Ashurbanipal: the last great ruler of the Assyrian Empire, and by his own account the first truly literate one, who could read scripts in Sumerian and the older forms of Akkadian.  

Ashurbanipal's military conquests created an empire of greater geographical extent than any that had existed before; he also assembled what was perhaps the world's first great royal library. To that end he employed an army of scribes to collect and copy ancient texts from temples of all the peoples that fell to his rule (a favorite being The Epic of Gilgamesh). One of those scribes, so I maintain, was a young Jewish poet — my hero, and the author of most of the psalms that bear the attribution "Bnei Korah" in their opening verse.

Here are the texts in the Assyrian annals, paralleling the lines from psalm 45 that recount the same event: the taking posession of the "daughter of Tyre". Being able to firmly state the identity of the king in the psalm and the event it describes is what allows us (me) to give an exact date to the composition of this poem.

Psalm 45  /// equivalents in /// Historical Prism Inscriptions of Ashurbanipal, Edition B

Bat tsor   ///    His [Ba'ali, King of Tyre's] daughter
Kol kbuda bat melech pnima  ///  his heavy tribute [ka-bid-tu] I received 
Betulot ahareha, re'oteha, muvaot lach /// and his nieces he brought before me to be ladies in waiting.

Some of the other idioms from earlier in the psalm are also similar from the Assyrian annals, e.g:

Hitzecha shinunim amim tahtecha yiplu  ///  Against Egypt and Ethiopia I sharpened my weapons and established my authority.

"And your majesty: conquer, ride on ...  Your arrows, pointed ..." (Ps. 45: 5-6)
Ashurbanipal hunting on a horse with a stylus tucked into his belt. Photo: British Museum

Of course this parallelism is hardly decisive for the identification of the king, if that was all there is. But it's an indication of being in the right zone, and one day, if I live, I'll spell out the whole bloody argument about the ten Bnei Korah poems and their unitary author and what was going on in those years.

Now back to this particular paperfold hanging in the Jaffa Museum. Ashurbanipal's prowess and virility and might are beyond doubt and he was more than a capable scholar-soldier. Yet this man, like other great emperors before and since, like Cyrus and Alexander and Caesar and Napoleon, leaves me entirely cold.

I've depicted him in as stiff and as stylized a way as I could, in high relief, blending an origami aesthetic with a Mesopotamian one so as to echo in paper some of what was done in stone. And stylized those representations certainly were. Just as from the epithets and self-descriptions alone it can be hard to tell one Assyrian king from another who lived centuries before, so with some of the sculpted reliefs, it's as if all these rulers were born with the same rounded eyes & brows, sported the same hairdos and had the same blocky beards: every one of them patterned, evidently, to a template they thought divine. "For this, Elohim, your God, annointed you in oil of joy above your peers."

Saadya Sternberg
August 2017

postscript (September)

I had the museum to myself for a few minutes during the day for delivering the artworks, and slipped into the Antiquities section to see how my “Ashby” stacked up against some of the old things there. The objects in the cabinets are from an earlier period (13th century BCE) when the empire ruling here was Egypt rather than Assyria, and “Israel” was the name of just one people among several then flourishing in Canaan. Still I could not resist the juxtaposition.

Post-postscript (December)

I made a few more studies in this series, all too late to make it into this show. Here's one that did make it into the Zaragoza museum (EMOZ) 2020 exhibit. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

"Press-Origami", by Masha Revva

Origami Tessellations + Press-Prints on Paper
June 20 -- July 4th, 2017

Jerusalem Artisans Gallery 
(Beit Ot Hamotzar Hayerushalmi)
12 Hebron Street, Jerusalem, Israel

This is a fine, understated exhibit by a leading Israeli origami artist, strangely moving given that the works in it are entirely non-figurative. It brings together tessellations—tile-like patterns from folded paper, each built out of minute folds of a single, uncut sheet—with old-fashioned color press-prints.  These too are on paper, made by passing the same kinds of folded objects under a heavy roller after inking. What's surprising is that even though everything here is pattern and geometry, so much emotion manages to be conveyed: even the specific feelings of nostalgia, hope, determination.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Israeli Origami 2: The Designer vs. the Sculptor

         Ilan Garibi | Saadya Sternberg

Hankin Design Gallery    
109 Hankin Street,  Holon,  Israel    
March 29 - May 5 2017
This show combines Ilan Garibi’s fabulous explorations of non-paper materials in his fashion and product design—all based on origami patterns he's invented—with my own efforts make original figure-sculpture from origami, mostly in paper but also in a few other types of material. Both of us think of ourselves as carrying origami into new precincts.
Saadya Sternberg, "Ernestine" (2006)

Ilan Garibi with Ofir Zucker for Aqua Creations. 
Photo: Albi Serfati