“When you stay at the Walled Off Hotel. You are a part of Banksy’s big installation. To be either a spectator or a creator. You can choose how far you want to go into the world he has created. You are free to make what you want and you are also free to go at anytime.”
I’m speaking to ‘Cakes Stencils‘. An artist whose work you would notice immediately when looking at the barrier which separates the town of Bethlehem from the rest of Israel. That giant concrete facade spotted with watch towers is covered with graffiti, much of it from Cakes himself. The hotel is next to the wall. Banksy’s project, it’s a remarkable place. Full of art and all around it an industry has grown. The hotel fast becoming a beacon for artists to flock towards and Cakes is a regular.
The Walled Off Hotel
“It’s the biggest thing Banksy managed to do with the Walled Off Hotel” he tells me. Speaking in reality about the community that now exists because of it. He visits when he can. Not actually from Bethlehem he has to make the effort to return. Always equipped with a new stash of stencils already pre-cut. Where once the top priority was to paint those stencils onto the grey cinder block. Now it’s about seeing friends first and the wall, still important, will come second.
His name gives the game away about his preferred medium. He creates simple single layer stencils which he sprays onto the wall and in areas around. They generally depict children. Playing within the tools of war and the equipment of occupation. They are faceless and nameless but they are happy. Innocents with no real concept of the world around them. They can be spotted everywhere. On his next visit he tells me he will bring a further 50 designs ready to cut and spray once he returns to Bethlehem.
Don’t Paint Cakes
“I’m not a fan of street art festivals and big colourful murals” he tells me. For me it’s not enough. You should want to change something.” These are the ‘Cakes’ he’s referring to in his name. The murals that look beautiful but have no purpose or meaning other than to look nice. For him his choosing to adopt the term for his name is, in itself, a reminder not to create that kind of art. “Don’t Paint Cakes” he reminds himself.
There is a second meaning too. Which is that “you are not making this for the money”. His art is very much about the message. There is no kind of monetary gain in what he does. Cakes should instead be spelt Cake$. The dollar sign reminding him of that fact. “For me it is better to do something than to do nothing… this wall will be defeated” he tells me.
Loss of Innocence
Cakes art is very much about a loss of innocence. Of creating a playground in a dangerous world. The children he portrays play with barbed wire and chain. They may be shown shackled or in imminent danger. Yet with their childlike imagination they only see the positive. “Kids don’t understand things like race or nationhood” he tells me. “It’s a distinction made by those in power… adults.”
He tells me too about his use of barbed wire. Often shown in his work, “it was invented to keep cows in one place” he tells me. “Barbed wire reminds you that you are the meat.” It is of course all around, an all too obvious symbol of life on the other side of the wall. “People should be free to travel and live where they want” he tells me. It’s not the case for many Palestinians, the wire and the wall prevents that from happening.
I ask Cakes about artists who might influence his work. David Wojnarowicz is the most prominent. “He was a clear activist with a difficult childhood” he tells me. He singles out a particular piece of his for comment. ‘Burning House’, a simple stencil coloured red of a house with flames coming out of the windows. “It has a meaning to everyone who has a difficult situation at home” he tells me. “The house is burning but nobody cares.”
Cakes own history has also informed his art. His own difficult childhood resulting in his creativity being stifled for a while. Only really beginning to explore his passion when moving out of the family home in 2010. “I paint kids because of my background” he tells me. The use of stencil too has meaning. “It’s the medium where you paint less but where you can tell more.”
Stencils in Palestine
Cakes art is mainly seen in Palestine. His art focused on the west bank barrier, seen by many as a symbol of occupation. He keeps going back. “You can see it all in my art” he tells me when I ask about his political views. “One image is worth a thousand words and artists are not good in explaining with words.”
He finishes by telling me a story. “You can get knowledge about the world in two different ways” he says. “A horizontal way and a vertical way. Horizontal is when you travel from one place to another. Vertical is when you stay in one place and you are trying to figure out how people think and who they really are. I prefer the vertical way.”
Cake$ Stencils was interviewed on 20 March 2019 over instagram. His work can be seen on the West Bank Barrier separating Palestine from Israel. He is an anonymous artist. You can read more about the graffiti art of Bethlehem by looking at this series of articles.