Living Paper: An Interview with Peixe-boi

October 15, 2011

Peixe-boi has been a Capoeira Malês DC student for over four years. Long before he started putting on abadas, Peixe-boi has created paper art figures that move, fight and play as if they were living.

Watch Peixe-boi's paper creations come to life in the video, and check out our follow up questions for him below.

Followup Interview with Peixe-boi


You were making paper men before you started training capoeira. What did the paper men do before capoeira?

All they did was fight. I didn't have toys, so I let my imagination run wild with the paper men. Before I did boxing or capoeira, I played basketball with the paper men. You work with what you got.

When I was boxing, I would create physical structures of the boxers I'd like, and got to watch and fight with them as many times as I want, learning from them. I used aluminum foil to make boxing gloves.

How did you first start making paper men? What was the moment of inspiration?

I was really really young. I had a piece of balled up toilet paper and just made a turtle out of it, and it wasn't bad! My parents were like - that's a turtle all right.

Every time I got play dough, I'd make something wild. I made Zeus when I was six years old. He had a beard, but he couldn't do anything, he couldn't move. That's why I started I messing with paper. Paper can do anything, it's weighted, strong and it can be flexible.  

How long does it take you to make one?

A couple seconds. You make them immediately, but you have to play with them. A strong piece of paper gives you options - what they're going to look like. But once you start playing around with them, you start to see what they're capable of. It's what you do that defines the structure.

How do you start making one?

Start in the middle, make his waist, ribs, arms, head and go back down, legs. It takes seconds.

How many paper men have you made?

In my life, maybe 5,000. I've been making them for more than 15 years. When I get off work, I head home and start playing with them. It's entertainment. When I'm home, it's non-stop.

You've done a lot of research into paper history, have you found anything similar?

Nothing. Origami goes into the art of folding paper, but there's no art of bending paper, or paper movement.

People think the paper men need to look “human”, have a face, but they don't. That's why I make the head of each paper man look like a lizard or something else. It's never how they look. All I'm worried about is the physical structure of the person.

Like in capoeira, it doesn't matter how you look, it's how you play. You could go into the roda with a 100k chain around your neck, that doesn't mean you can play, that thing could smack you in the face and knock you out.

Someone asked me the other day why there are no paper women. It's not necessary. They're paper men, but they really don't have a sex. That's why their heads are like lizards.

What happens when a paper man gets injured? Can a paper man die?

It just gets too old to play with. I have a paper man that's more than 10 years old. It's a long time for a piece of paper to live.

They're like humans. They get old, they get worn out.

What's next for the paper men?

They go where I go. If I was a ballerina, I could make 100 ballerinas, graceful with perfect movement.

Anything that has to do with movement, you can learn from it so easily. When I first made them, they were super heroes, like Dragonball Z, Kung Fu Masters, stuff that I was into.

It's about the time you put into it.

I taught a class when I was in fifth grade. I would really like for someone to spend time doing this when they're young. I can show people, but some people just aren't careful with them. 
The more careful you are with them, the more you learn, and the more you're going to want to learn and try.  

If I could show someone else who actually cares to learn, and every once in a while they make a figure and play around with it, then I would be happy.

What do you think of Living Paper? Share your comments below!