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Paper art a new mental therapy for distressed Kenyans

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-10-06 10:40

Kenya's Elius Magu has nurtured a passion for arts since childhood and his one-bedroom house located in a low-income Nairobi suburb attests to that fact.

At the center of his neatly arranged sitting room is a small coffee table where a huge pile of art pieces, with some having a Chinese touch, catch the attention of visitors.

Magu, a recovering alcoholic, is now soaking his soul in art to shake off memories of wasted youth in drinking dens that dot Kenya's rural villages and urban slums.

With no wife or children to take care of, Magu who turns 45 next month, now invests all his energy in art hoping to close a sad chapter in his life.

Two months into his recovery journey, Magu who is also a taekwondo fan, says his love for art, especially Chinese art, started in his primary school days when he watched his first film by Jet Li, a renowned Chinese action film actor.

Even though Magu does not expect to make any money from art, the therapy in it is more fulfilling.

Still learning the basics of creating a great piece of art, Magu has focused on paper quilling as materials needed for this type of art are not hard to get and are generally affordable.

"I watch YouTube videos to learn some of the basics of paper quilling. I hope I will soon create one of my pieces. I have a diploma in Graphic Design from Technical University of Kenya and I wish I had nurtured my love for art back when I was still a young man," he says.

According to Fatema Qureishi, the founder of Amathus Arts, an art studio predominantly working in the realm of paper craft in Nairobi's Karen area, though not popular, paper quilling can be a great stress reliever and a great technique to help people like Magu trying to salvage their lives.

"As a professional artist, I would encourage people to learn paper quilling as rolling and scrolling of paper channels the unexpressed energies and releases anxiety and stress. In performing this art, the coordination of hands-eyes movements strengthens the motor-skills. Along with regular practice, one tends to develop a phenomenal creative expression in life," she says.

For Zawadi Robi, paper quilling saved her from depression. Having lost her son and only child in a road accident three years ago, she slipped into depression and lost hope in life.

"During one of my counseling sessions, my therapist urged me to take up an activity that would keep my mind busy and creative and since I have a background in paper craft, I embarked on paper quilling. For the past one year since I started doing it, my situation has really improved. I no longer feel hopeless," she says.

In her early 40s, Zawadi says paper quilling has helped her survive anxiety attacks which mostly strike at night.

"Sometimes I get overly emotional but crafting has brought some balance in my life," she says.

Having been in the paper crafting industry for over 10 years now, Fatema says paper quilling still has some distance to cover before it becomes popular.

According to a report of the Kenya Bureau of National Statistics, Kenya saw a growth of only 4 percent in the creative sector in 2016.

"There is abundant artistic potential in Kenya that waits to be tapped. Take paper quilling as an example, while it is a popular form of art in many parts of the world, it still remains to be relatively unknown in Kenya," Fatema says.

Paper quilling or paper filigree is the art of rolling thin strips of paper into circular shapes that are glued together to make decorative patterns, ornamental artwork and functional pieces.

The craft originated in Europe among religious communities during the Renaissance period where it was used to decorate books and sacred items.

It then became a popular pastime among upper class women before being employed as a decorative technique on furniture and high-value accessories.

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