Once you pass through the checkpoint that leads to West Bank, it’s hard not to come across Cake$ artworks. He was born under the weight of an increasingly oppressive Israeli occupation. His mission? To fight with stencils and paint to affirm his rights and existence.
With your works you turn Palestine into a playground where children play with barbed wire and bombs, but they are always happy.
«Barbed wire is part of my life, starting from childhood. It always made me feel trapped, physically and mentally. You know, it was intended to gather the cows in the same place in order not to scatter them and constantly reminds us that for some people we are nothing but meat. In my stencils I see the barbed wire as a limitation of childhood. Children in Palestine have no freedom, even though they have done nothing wrong. Because of the occupation, they have no infrastructure, spaces to play in, nothing to be happy about. Despite that, with their childhood imagination they only see the positive side. Children lack the conception of the external world and they do not understand things like race or nationality. It is a distinction made by those who have the power: adults.»
Your technique is very effective: one-level stencil, black, with a powerful message.
«It’s important for me to say something important. You know, according to the idea of Will Gompertz where the artist is an entrepreneur, with art one tries to embellish and in general to make some money. Here we are in Palestine, an open-air prison. I don’t paint on the wall to make it beautiful, I do it because I have a message to say. A black stencil on a white background is an almost natural decision if you want to create something that has a powerful meaning. My art does not focus only on this conflict, but approaches the theme of childhood and paternity, like the commitment of parents who want a better future for their children and the wounds caused by living in a hostile environment.»
Where does Cake$ come from?
«Painting in the street is like distributing cakes among the community. Most murals are colorful and beautiful but, unfortunately, meaningless. So, for me, this kind of art is empty. I try to paint something important and the name I use help to remind myself that my work must have meaning. The dollar symbol instead reminds me not to do it for money but for my ideas.»
Banksy recently opened the Walled Off Hotel near Bethlehem. Some only talk about a commercial gimmick, but do Palestinians think it’s good for the community?
«Of course! It is for sure something positive for us. We see more tourists, we have more international visibility, more and more people are aware of our situation. Not to forget that local population has more works now.»
Jorit instead was arrested by the Israeli army while painting the portrait of Ahed Tamimi a Palestinian activist. Is it risky for artists to paint here?
«I can’t say it’s simple. The separation wall has towers occupied by the Israeli army and only a few are empty. So, first you need to be aware of those that are empty. However, you need to be fast and invisible. I work both day and night and hide my stencils and paints in my backpack, or better yet, in my sweatshirt. I haven’t had much trouble in the last few years…»
Israel ‘gifted’ you with 438km of wall, aren’t they too many?
«Painting on the wall is slightly different from street work; it is a collective action with a precise meaning and sometimes some works last for a little time. I like the interaction with other graffiti and protest artworks, that’s exactly the purpose. I believe that every person has the right to travel. The news that I read about the possibility of building new walls, for example in the United States, makes me feel like when they started building this one.»
How do you see the future?
«A world without walls or borders.»