Asawa first became interested in paper as a young child folding origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, which she learned at the Japanese Cultural School she attended on Saturdays. Later, when she was studying at Black Mountain College, her teacher Josef Albers inspired her to experiment with paper. His "matiere" exercises were lessons to study a material and search for "new uses or qualities without destroying its characteristics." Under Albers' critical eye, Asawa experimented with cheap, readily available materials such as leaves, wood, paper, and wire. Albers' devotion to finding new uses from commonplace materials is a philosophy that Asawa used in both her work in wire and her work in paper. When she is asked to describe her work she often says, "It was just an experiment."
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