A self-taught artist, who is a kidney transplant survivor, is exploiting untapped taxidermist industries as a business venture despite his illness.
Taxidermy is the art┬áreproducing dead animals for display┬áas hunting trophies or for other sources of study; it has been in existence for the last century.┬á
John Makepe says though the nature of illness deters him from carrying out heavy jobs, he does not have an option because he has to put food on the table.
“I am compelled to find a way to make a living since I am from an underprivileged family. I had to find an option after completing my senior secondary education at Moeding in 2003,” said Makepe.
“Since the doctors had advised me not to carry any heavy objects, I had to look for an alternative.
That alternative was in the arts. Though I have never done art in school, I felt that it was an alternative route because I used to see drawings even when I was reading. It is almost like a god’s calling.”
Apart from taxidermistry, Makepe also does pottery, paintings, sculptor, weaving, drawings, mix media and leather works.
Makepe says he has been patient when it comes to learning the artistic work. According to him, he unearthed his talents from Akanyang Fantan who introduced him to the world of art.
Relating his story, Makepe noted that he fell in love with taxidermistry after he learnt how to make bags, earrings, diphate and decorations using leather.
He explained that they specialize in reproducing wild animals but decried the high cost of leather, which they need to mold any type of wild animal.
Saying that they mostly reproduce animals such as lions, cheetahs, kudus and many others, Makepe said that wild animals’ leather, which they buy from the Department of Wildlife, is very expensive.
“Imagine the big five wild animals cost more than six thousand pula. Where can I get that kind of money? If it were possible, I could buy it and mould any animal and make a lot of profit because any of the Big Five, when molded, cost close to P20 000,” added Makepe.
Makepe said that they mold any type of animal that customers want, adding that, at times, customers come with their own leather.
He further noted that the leather goes through several stages before they place the leather on the mold that produces the type of the animal that customers want.
“We recreate any animal provided the animal’s leather is available,” he said.
Makepe says that they are few Batswana who have exploited the opportunity. According to him the art itself is not difficult to learn.
Makepe is convinced that this is something out of a desire to be creative. He is worried that if prices of wild animal skins keep on rising, they will have difficulty in growing their business.
“I am hoping that the government will sell us those hides at a subsidized price in the future because, as artists, we are not making money out of this industry compared to others,” he said.
Makepe, who had a kidney transplant when he was nine months old, has vowed to continue with what he is doing despite his shaky health.
Makepe says he tried to apply for the out-of-school youth fund several times but has not been lucky.
“I have tried to convince those who fund to help me with the finance to start a business. I wanted to manufacture sofas because I am good at it. They have never responded but I will try again. I have never asked them why because they are very powerful people.”
Currently Makepe is housed at the Thapong Visual Arts centre.