by ARNO CORNELISSEN
A Makhandan through and through, Juanito Romario Featherstone (who goes by the name of Bagels) was born in 1996 and went through nursery, primary, high school and completed his tertiary education in Makhanda – a small town in the Eastern Cape.
He has been creating art and expressing himself creatively for as long as he can remember. “There isn’t a memory where I wasn’t drawing on the walls, in the sand or on my clothes. All the guys in my family were drawing. I guess it comes from my father’s side”.
Bagels draws inspiration from life, and the core of his work comes from experimenting; trying anything new and unique.
His first, big, commissioned job was a mural on Cradock Road, on your way to the industrial area of town. Bagels was assisting Ralarno Coutts, a muralist from Johannesburg. The project, Nature is Louder, was led by the National Arts Festival, one that Mook Lion – resident street artist and muralist – was also involved in. Although they did not work together on that mural, Mook saw the work that Ralarno and Bagels put out there.
The right people had seen Bagels’ work, and Mook Lion approached him to do a mural on the Africa Media Matrix (AMM) building on Rhodes University’s campus. “It was crazy man, the mural with Mook is by far the biggest project I have been involved with. That was one of the best things for me”.
“I’ve never done anything like that in my life”, says Bagels, explaining how working on a mural of such a massive scale boosted his confidence to new heights. “It took some time building that confidence, but once you get it and get into the swing of things, you get more comfortable”.
One thing that makes the mural on the AMM powerful is the scale. “It’s such a massive thing, you can’t help noticing it. That already has a huge power dynamic. It keeps pulling your attention”. Whereas galleries have “become outdated; it sort of turned into a museum where everything is still, waiting and waiting”, says Bagels in the confined exhibition space. “I like showing my work to people. I need alternative ways of showcasing my work in a more accessible way”.
Even though Makhanda prides itself on being the creative city, “there are nowhere close to enough programmes or spaces for artists to make a career from their art here. There isn’t a gallery that regularly shows upcoming artists’ work. I want to create such a space that isn’t limited to any one form of art but where artists can come together and meet other artists. That is my long-term plan, to create such a creative hub.”
Mook Lion often says, “we have to work together and work with the people we know.” Having your work in the public space introduces artists to the public, and it can offer legitimate opportunities.
A recent example is a graffiti artist approached by a business owner while working in the public space. The owner sees the artist’s work firsthand and wants something fresh painted on his walls. That graffiti artist knows other street artists from their work seen on public walls. Just like that, opportunities are created, and Bagels has a potential job lined up. With limited opportunities for artists in a small town, it is up to us to create spaces and opportunities that help spread the work of artists more publicly.