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Folding Paper, Shaping Culture

Te Jui (Kyle) Fu, a master of origami, hopes the festival will create awareness of the art.

Te Jui (Kyle) Fu and origami shoes

For years, Te Jui (Kyle) Fu, a master of origami—the art of folding paper—has dreamed of an origami festival in Houston. Now, with a grant from the Houston Arts Alliance, the city’s first origami festival is a reality and will be held on August 3 at the Plazamericas. All events will be free and open to the public.

Fu is accustomed to breaking new ground. As an artist, he has an impressive portfolio of artwork in many different media. And as a gay man, he has worked hard for LGBTQ equality over the last four decades.

Festival Events

The festival will include free workshops where guests can create their own origami pieces. In his workshops, Fu keeps the atmosphere light and the tasks easy. “You don’t give a child a 150-fold piece to start out with,” he says. When he helps people of all ages create a simple origami piece, he loves to see the smiles on their faces.

Other features of the festival are a kung fu performance and a dragon and lion dance. Since 2024 is the Year of the Dragon, Fu will be creating a 6-foot-high origami dragon. He feels it is important for people to learn about and appreciate both their own and other cultures.

Fu hopes that the festival will serve as a way to create awareness of the art, so that some day Houston will have an origami museum.

Origami’s History

Origami is believed to have come from Japan, where it was used for religious ceremonies and formal functions. As paper became more available, the art spread across Asia and Europe, with each culture adding their own touches.

Although it is commonly thought that origami is created from one piece of paper, multiple parts can be created and then attached together.

Today, folding is part of the fashion industry. It is also used in aerospace, especially in satellites that have parts that are folded for transport and then unfolded in space.

Computer programs exist that artists can use to create an origami folding pattern, but Fu declines to use the programs and does all his folding by hand. “I try and try and try until I get it right,” he says. He has worked with origami for so long that he is known as “the million-folds origami master.” 

A Multicultural Upbringing 

Fu was born in London in 1961. His parents wanted him to have a 100% Chinese education, so they returned to their native Taiwan. Today he is bilingual, speaking English and Mandarin Chinese.

At the age of 16, Fu moved with his family to Baltimore. Then in 1999, the family moved to Houston. His parents liked the thriving Chinese community here, and they wanted to get away from snow.

Fu spent two years at the Maryland Institute College of Art and then struck out on his own as an artist. His parents told him to do whatever he felt called to do, and to be good at whatever he chose. “I was a crazy child with what might have seemed to be unrealistic dreams. I don’t think they realized at first that I could make money as an artist,” he says.

Fu’s sister Kate is the one who has supported his artistic career “one thousand percent” for the past several decades. That career started when he created cover art for paperback fantasy books in the 1980s. Over the last four decades, his artwork has been exhibited at more than 25 professional galleries and art festivals. Themes of his exhibits span a diverse range of topics, including human trafficking, origami fashion, the Rio Carnivale, the environment, and synchronized existential extremism art.

Diverse Origami Art

Fu’s origami animal creations

Fu has raised origami art to new heights—literally. Next year, the city of Dublin, California, will unveil an 18-foot-tall sheet-metal horse that artist Kevin Box of Santa Fe cast in bronze. The design for the horse was made from paper by Fu. He looks forward to attending the ceremony.

Box also created two smaller bronze horses 15 years ago, also based on Fu’s origami designs that continue to tour the country, being exhibited at botanic gardens. Nearly 8 million people have seen the horse duo. One of the horses was entered in the Bayou City Art Festival and won Best of Show.

Over the past 19 years, Fu has earned more than a million dollars from origami sculptures. One of his clients, Houston philanthropist Dr. Carolyn Farb, commissioned him to make an installation in her home of 500 blue origami cranes.

Fu’s creations include life-size origamis of a dragon, a goat, a tiger, a horse, rabbits, pigs, dalmatians, rats, monkeys, and chickens. He also has created a life-size origami of famed dancer Josephine Baker and an Ironman for a local movie theater lobby.

Fu has held origami workshops in museums, comic conventions, libraries, art festivals, schools, summer camps, and senior housing facilities. One of his workshops at the Holocaust Museum Houston focused on origami butterflies to help advance the museum’s goal of creating one million butterflies to memorialize the children lost in Nazi concentration camps.

Theatrical Interests

Fu expanded his artistic creativity into filmmaking, taking on a variety of roles in the TV, film, and live-theater fields. He is a producer, actor, host, screen writer, casting director, and choreographer. He also works with fundraising, promotion and marketing, poster creation, and advertising. He can create storyboards for TV, film, and graphic novels.

He has a full résumé ranging over the past 40 years. Among the films he has worked on is Pearl Harbor, in a supporting role.

Fu has brought home awards three times from Houston’s WorldFest independent film festival. He won bronze for the original screenplay for Zombietopia: How I Met my Zombie Boyfriend in the comedy/musical category. His documentary film, Foldtastic, which he produced and starred in, won silver for best short documentary. His first short thriller, Face It!, took home a silver award.

Out and Proud

Fu came out as a gay man while in college in Baltimore in the early 1980s. He became a volunteer and helped organize that city’s Gay Pride Day events.

In 1987, Fu joined the second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. “There were a lot of us out there, and I didn’t feel so alone,” he says.

That was also the first major showing of the AIDS Quilt, which was laid out near the Washington Monument on the Mall. “People were visiting it, even into the night,” he recalls.

Although he has always been HIV-negative, he has still involved himself in the response to the disease. In the mid-1990s, he attended a conference in Denver and brought back information he knew people wanted. He has always been outspoken in his support of people living with AIDS.

Fu lost many friends and lovers, and during the worst years of the pandemic, he knew that just waking up every day would be a challenge.

Over the years, Fu has attended LGBTQ Pride parades in Baltimore; Washington, DC; New York City; and Houston. While attending the New York parade, he visited the historic Stonewall Inn.

No Regrets

Reflecting on his life up to this point, Fu says he has no regrets about any of the choices he has made. He does not worry about failing or making a big mistake.

When he was young, Fu recalls simply wanting to live happily. But then he began to realize it wasn’t quite so simple. He had to decide if he was willing to pay the price for the sort of happiness that something like a new car might bring.

Today, he wants to devote his energies to helping young and upcoming artists, and to base his own artwork on his environmental philosophy.

Fu offers guidance to new artists about how to survive and have a meaningful career. He wants the next generation of LGBTQ and artistic kids to realize the importance of being artists.

Thinking back to the days when he was attending so many funerals, Fu is now focused on the importance of supporting the work of artists and LGBTQ activists. “Others sacrificed to give us the chance to be free to be whoever we want to be,” he says.

Becoming an artist wasn’t an easy decision for Fu, even though he is highly skilled at drawing, folding paper, and painting. He has come to realize that, for him, being an artist includes being a philosopher, inventor, trendsetter, cultural preservationist, human-rights advocate, and environmental activist.

“Art is one of the most important ways to communicate to the world. Art can influence and change peoples’ views and ideas,” he says. “One single sheet of paper can become an important document that can change a nation. Or it can become a folded origami crane that symbolizes peace and hope into the future, as we are still living with endless challenges daily.”

WHEN: Saturday, August 3, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.,  and Sunday, August 4 noon to 5 p.m.)
WHERE: Plazamericas, 7500 Bellaire Boulevard
All events are free and open to the public.

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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