Femigami: embrace your body through the art of paperfolding

Keeping entertained at home is the ultimate ‘lockdown challenge’. As we reach an endpoint with virtual pub quizzes and baking banana bread, this period has encouraged many of us to try our hand at a new skill (only after completing Netflix). Creativity has ample therapeutic benefits, especially during this long phase where many people are feeling isolated and demotivated. Whether it’s cooking, gardening, drawing or crafting, a tactile activity is proven to help focus and momentarily distract ourselves from lamenting life’s current state during the coronavirus crisis.

Eager to share the art of paperfolding with the public during the pandemic, Emily Kenneally has adapted her origami workshops by hosting them online. But how does ‘Femigami’ differ from traditional origami? Instead of conventional animal shapes, Emily teaches people how to create origami vulvas.

During a difficult time with her own mental health a few years ago, Emily turned her attention to an origami kit her friend had bought her for her birthday. “It was great to focus on a task that wasn’t particularly taxing,” Emily tells me. “It’s like a puzzle – you have to concentrate – so I found it had a beneficial effect on my anxiety.”

After absorbing herself in YouTube tutorials, Emily used her spare time to host origami crafts parties for friends. It was in this setting that the concept around Femigami was unearthed. “We discovered half a tortoise looks very much like a vulva,” she says. And indeed it does. Once customised with strands of wool, pompoms, sequins and glitter, each individual origami vulva celebrates the individuality of our bodies.

Vulvas, nipple tassels, penises and faces of feminist icons tend to be the custom shapes you find at a Femigami workshop. What initially started as a tongue-in-cheek meet-up quickly moulded into something much more profound, sparking stimulating discussions around body image. “Some people who attended would tell me really intimate things about themselves or they would talk to the group about some of the shame they might have had around their body parts,” she explains. “It was great for them to be able to express themselves.”

Emily did not initially expect her workshops to ignite these conversations, although she is immensely proud of Femigami’s evolution. The remedial, tangible activity of paperfolding paired with the versatility of the origami designs helped these sessions become a safe space for body positivity and feminist thought. “I think it’s very empowering to talk about your body in a positive way with other women and men. Things like pubic hair – there are lots of different opinions on pubic hair around these days, so to celebrate it is wonderful in a sense”.

Her sessions have been tailored with inclusivity in mind, available to all genders. She confesses the origami penis was a challenge, but her chosen design is just five folds. Realising the educative potential behind the ethos of Femigami, Emily transferred the workshops from a pub environment and started hosting them in galleries. Most recently at the Vagina Museum and Bishopsgate Institute, both in London. At one museum workshop, Emily noticed a mother had brought her daughter along to teach her about different parts of the body. “I am really proud that a mother decided my workshops were an appropriate place to take her daughter to feel confident about her body as she was going through puberty.” By normalising different parts of the body in discussions, she hopes more younger girls and women will feel confident and comfortable with their bodies.

Workshop at the Vagina Museum in Camden

This is an area she hopes to explore further. Pre-virus, Emily planned to host sessions in schools alongside Be Her Lead, an organisation supporting young girls who feel underconfident. She recalls the embarrassment of sex education when she was younger, and how physical objects like origami help to educate. “It’s a really fun way for parents to talk to their children about their bodies, about sex, things that are really important for us to talk about, like how to be safe.” She now plans to instruct teachers on how to make origami genitalia online so they can bring these sessions into schools during the pandemic.

Emily does not take a fee to run these sessions but instead invites participants to donate to Women’s Aid, for which she is a Campaign Champion. “It’s all entwined in keeping women safe and understanding our bodies. It’s interesting that something so simple as folding a bit of paper can open up all these conversations.” The government has released startling national statistics signifying the dramatic rise in domestic abuse reports during the UK lockdown. Even donating the price of a coffee, lunchtime meal deal or pint can help these services sustain themselves in these pressured times.

Jo Brand in origami form

To raise money for Women’s Aid and The Eve Appeal, Femigami is co-hosting their first ‘Vulva Festival’ in collaboration with VaVaWomb, an organisation promoting body positivity and women’s health. This online event will take place virtually on Saturday 30th May for an evening of open mic poetry, origami, drawing and special guests.

Although she admits missing the intimate spaces her workshops generate, some of her online sessions have taken an inspiring new route during the lockdown. Emily has recently tailored some of her sessions to offer ‘Origami for Wellbeing’, encouraging people to use materials from around the house for arts and crafts. “My other workshops are very much focused on feminism. This is more about wellbeing and self-reflection, looking at ways to look after ourselves at this time.”

These online classes are designed to encourage people to look after themselves, in part by writing ‘self-love letters’ about themselves. She hopes the tactile nature of her craft paired with the discussion will continue to be a source of comfort during the Coronavirus crisis. “The ultimate aim of my workshops is to bring joy to people after having a really terrible time with my mental health. At the moment, if I can help people who are struggling with the crisis  going on, to me, that is very worthwhile and it brings me a lot of comfort at a time like this.”

To keep up-to-date with Emily’s Femigami workshops, visit the Facebook page.

Buy your tickets for the online Vulva Festival from VaVaWomb’s website for £8.

If you would like to donate to Women’s Aid, please visit their website.


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