The artist, teacher and researcher during the interview. Francis Silva
The artist who is rebuilding the Alhambra with origami

The artist who is rebuilding the Alhambra with origami

Juanoto Pérez. The teacher and researcher is completing his PhD on the Japanese technique, studying all the great mathematical and geometric detail of this Granada monument

Cristina Pinto


Friday, 5 May 2023, 13:01


A Malaga man, born and bred, he studied design, worked as a teacher and later life led him to study fine arts at the age of 39. Then, different circumstances brought him into contact with Japan, where origami is considered to be the starting point of everything. A form of exploration, meditation and art hidden in the folds of paper that take shape in the hands of Juan Antonio Pérez, better known in the art world as Juanoto Pérez. A cancer diagnosis at 22 and another later on led to some skin burns and shoulder problems: "Until then I was painting, doing photography and many other things. But I lost some mobility in one arm and I was committed to finishing my Master's degree. Thinking about what I could do, I remembered a teacher showing me how to make origami at the age of 10 and I wanted to pick up on making these again, especially the more mathematical and geometric ones," he said.

This was just the beginning of a project that he began in 2015 and in which he is still immersed: his doctoral thesis on the geometry and mathematics of the Alhambra and the 17 types of mosaics that can only be seen together in this monument.

"During my literature review for the thesis I came across Arabic geometry and, as I continued my reading, I discovered that a large part of the Arabic influences that came to Spain were not from northern Africa, rather from a culture originating in Asia. And I began to establish a connection with those influences to the geometry of the Alhambra by experimenting with the shapes and analysing how polygons and stars were created with just four lines... Thus I began to study how these polygons were constructed mathematically and I then applied it to origami," added Pérez, who considers himself a self-taught person in mathematics and origami. "Now that I've learned it, I can put my twist on it."

He explains all this in the presence of some of the origami designs that recreate the tile mosaics covering a large part of the Alhambra in Granada.

Together all these polygons conjure up images of the walls of this monument so well known in Andalusian culture, but he creates them as origami.

Some details of the origami models made by Juanoto Pérez
Some details of the origami models made by Juanoto Pérez Francis Silva

"When you do the mathematical drawing there are many lines that I can take as folds to give them shape, adapting them to my field of work. This is how the 17 repetitions of these types of mosaics in the Alhambra begin to emerge, which is the only monument to have them all. For now I have 15, I'm missing two," concluded Juanoto Pérez, who is coming to the end of his research for his doctoral thesis.

Since his decision to return to origami on that day in 2015, the Alhambra research project isn't the only one keeping Juanoto Pérez busy. He recently took part in the second edition of the Japanese cultural week in Malaga by making an armchair upholstered with this paper technique. He's also exhibited in the recent Andalusian Origami event; he worked with the organiser, Olga Grymierski, and participated in several workshops.

"Origami is a passion, you do not calculate how much time you spend on making something, you don't even think about it... In the end this becomes a form of meditation because there's a process to handling the paper, making friends with it, because then it tells you where you can kick off and what you can do," he said.

Paper lamps

As for his day to day work, Pérez takes the small mosaic designs from the Alhambra to use in paintings or lamps made from tracing paper. He cannot always use proper origami paper: "It's very difficult to find, but for my work I use everything from thin pieces of card to baking sheets to a kind of tracing paper with which I make the mosaics of the Alhambra, (a type of paper that not even the woman who sells it to me knows its name),"revealed the artist.

Fashion design, graphic design, window dressing, drawing... So many subjects that surround him in his life as a teacher and all with one thing in common: creativity. Always on the lookout for one more project, this artist had, for this year's Japan cultural week, prepared to make a kimono with origami, but his health problems have meant that he has had to delay its completion.

That said, the design he has started is quite delightful. Meanwhile, Juanoto Pérez will continue turning the Alhambra into origami. From Al-Andalus to Japan, from art to mathematics, from life to circumstance.

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