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The Zoologist Who Makes Animal Origami out of Vietnam's Banknotes

What if you could make art with just VND200?

As children, we all experienced the joy of making imaginative escapes with our paper toys — a plane whooshing through the air, a boat floating along the stream, or a Đông-Tây-Nam-Bắc revealing messages from the universe. Then, we grew older, and these thin sheets became the representative medium of scary, adult things that nobody enjoy, like standardized tests, or mortgage contracts.

But for certain grown-ups who enjoy the art of origami, papers have never seem to lose their magic property, especially when they open the door to a world filled with tiny wonders that could fit in the palm of one's hand.

In Vietnam, origami has attracted quite a significant following, spawning community and hobby groups up to tens of thousands of members. But since other types of paper-folding arts were already bubbling within the country, a local offshoot called moneygami has spawned. Inspired by traditional money folding arts, this hybrid variant makes use of low-denomination banknotes to make origami designs.

While moneygami is growing more popular in Vietnam, it remains little-known elsewhere. In hope of getting recognition for this art form, a Vietnamese artist has taken to the internet to introduce it through his YouTube channel LQD Money Origami.

Amassing more than 100 videos and one million cumulative views, LQD Money Origami is where Liên Quốc Đạt shows his completed works, as well as step-by-step instructions on how to make them. The compilation features designs of various difficulties and themes, ranging from familiar animals like bears and lions to iconic film characters like Sun Wukong.

Talking to Urbanist in a call, Đạt said that his love for paper folding went way back to when he was still in elementary school. Growing up without arcades and video games, he found delight in making paper crafts taught in children's guidebooks. Slowly, his childhood hobby turned into a lifelong passion even as he grew up and became a zoologist.

“When I go on expeditions, I typically only carry a few tools and a wallet. During the breaks when I don't know what to do, I'd take some banknote out to fiddle with,” Đạt said with a smile. Everytime he's done fiddling, a new design comes into life, and his collection grows a little bigger. With more than 200 origamis in hand, he turned to YouTube as way to preserve them in his memory.

"Initially, I opened a YouTube channel just to to save my designs, because I can't remember them all and can't draw that many diagrams either." But as more videos get uploaded, encouraging messages from people around the world start flooding the comment section, asking for more.

Thus, Đạt's digital archive was turned into a common space for moneygami enthusiasts, where weekly updates have been made for the past two years. “It makes me happy, because when I create something beautiful, I also want to see other people liking and making it as well as I do.”

To begin a new design, Đạt usually starts with fiding inspiration from his personal interests, be it an animated movie, or a comic book: “Recently I have been binging Godzilla, so naturally I folded up Godzilla and Ghidorah because they're just so cool.”

This process of can take anywhere between one day to two or three weeks, all depending on the artist's "speedy when inspired, and slow when not" status of motivation. Đạt described the steps as very technical, in which he starts by analyzing the structure and porportion of the original subject, creating a basic structure and components, then "folding it over and over again until it's beautiful."

One unique thing about Đạt's designs is that they do not require standard origami materials like kami or washi paper, but can be made using Vietnamese bills between VND200 and 5,000.

Explaining this feature, Đạt said that he wanted to honor Vietnam's traditional craft of money folding, and make it more known to international viewers, as well as making it easier for people to learn origami, even if they have little dexterity or access to hobby stores.

"A lot of origami patterns are too sophisticated for beginners because they can take hundreds of steps. But banknotes can only be folded about 50 times, so I use them to simplify my designs. Plus, money is like the most basic material of all, so if something can be folded with money, it can work with any other type of paper — a calendar, a notebook, even a lottery ticket."

Banknotes are also often tucked into wallets and pockets, and can be carried anywhere for practice. "You don't have to run home to find a 60x60 roll of paper to do origami. As long as you have your wallet on you, you can go up the jungle like I do still have something to fold."

As for his all-time favorite design, Đạt said that it wasn't a special character from any movie, but simply a Vietnamese turtle from a time when "great origami minds thought alike."

"At first, I just wanted to create a basic template, but later found out that my turtle looked exactly like [artist] Linh Sơn's turtle from the body, head, neck, to shell. Turned out, he also used a rectangular sheet and we practically had the same basic structure, so I decided to upgrade my turtle by making the scales on the shell match the pattern on the banknote. When I finished, I was amazed with myself for making such a complex design out of so little paper space."

Opening up about the future, Đạt said he plans to compile different designs from artists across Vietnam, and publish a moneygami anthology book as guideline for those outside of the country to explore more on their own.

In addition, he also hopes that origami would one day be taught in official curricula, and be recognized not only as an art, but also a "science" that could help both children and adults develop comprehensive geometric and artistic conceptualization.

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