This is the artist, Abbes Boukobza. He is a painter, married for 36 years, with three sons (one living in Paris) and a daughter, all painters. He said his wife is in charge and joked that she looks like she’s from Peru. When we drove up to his house in the countryside here in Djerba yesterday afternoon, and she came walking from across the field with a sheep and a few goats, I kind of agreed.
Abbes is a friend of my friend Hamet, who arranged for us all to meet at a cafe in the town of Homut here in Djerba. When we arrived, Abbes was sitting with a group of his friends, including the deputy mayor of Homut, the capital city of the island. We all joked about whether meeting the deputy mayor of Homut on my penultimate day in Djerba was more or less important than meeting the Italian prime minister on my first day in Tunis. You can guess who won. (Hint: sorry, Italy.)
Like during all my encounters with everyone I’ve met in Tunisia, I was immediately offered coffee, tea, food, and lively conversation, and then Abbes invited me into his home so I could see it, as well as his studio, and meet his wife.
He built his home on top of water deep beneath the ground, he told me. It was apparent something was special. The house was calm and enveloping, with such beautiful light from the tiny windows…like a hug, he said in Arabic.
He gave me a painting, which I can’t wait to frame and hang in my home. And he told me the Muslim authority/Islamic extremists who have emerged since the revolution (his words) have been giving him a pretty hard time, making it increasingly hard for him to sell his work. Seems they’ve taken offense to the colorful, modern, abstract, secular, Picasso-like whimsy of it all.
He isn’t bothered though. He struck me as someone who takes it all in stride. He shared his life philosophy with me, which is so simple, yet profoundly true: It’s a big world, there’s room for us all.
He told me that during a recent television interview he’d given the reporter kept pressing him with questions about whether or not he is Muslim, obviously trying to bait him. I loved his answer, “On Friday I am Muslim. On Saturday I am Jewish. On Sunday I am Catholic.” Now shut the fuck up and move on. (That last bit’s mine.) And this is why I live (love) to travel.
Postscript: The painting is now placed proudly in my apartment.