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Nancy Denommee

Jaber was born in January 1938 in M'saken, near Sousse in Tunisia and he died on 17 October 2021 in Paris and was burried in M'saken. His real name is Jaber al-Majoub (in Arabic "the Blessed One"). When he was little, he was responsible for the donkey in the shepherd family. He has no memory of his father and his mother died when he was 6 years old. Brought up from the oldest sister, he never went to school. With 18 years he boarded the ferry to France to seek his fortune. He stayed several years in Marseille, always with the intention to settle in Paris, which finally succeeded. In the city of his dreams, he worked as a baker. During waiting times during the long nights in the bakery he started drawing with charcoal on the whitewashed walls and to the consternation of the patron, he began to bake bread in the shape of birds and fishes.

He heard that as a boxer there was a lot of money to earn, he applied and he impressed so much that he got a solid education in the art of boxing. But it soon became clear that Jaber was not a born fighter and it was not fun, handing out his opponents punches. Legend tells that Jaber on the way to training missed the right door one day and suddenly was in a recording studio where the sound engineer was waiting for a drummer who had not appeared. Jaber, never reluctant to try new things, offered himself as a replacement and after a few rehearsals there was a successful recording. His unexpected rhythmic and vocal talents later enabled him to enter into the recording Petit Conservatoire de Mireille and make first recordings for Pathé Marconi – Jaber now earned money from royalties of his music.

But he was a too free spirit to be confined to the employment as a baker, boxer and singer and he began to paint gouaches , which he sold around St. Michel for 5 $ each. End of the 60s he was «discovered» by a wealthy American. Impressed by his rich talent, she took him to the U.S., where the two were married in a hurry. To be married, turned out to be a disaster. His wife was crying day and night and Jaber realized that it had been wrong to change his life and he returned to Paris, where he felt most comfortable.

The american experience enriched his curriculum and armed with diplomas and numerous press reports, he rented a space one opposite the Centre Georges Pompidou, where he exhibited his paintings. In addition, he had numerous exhibitions in galleries in the Beaubourg neighborhood. However, the commitments associated with this activities did not meet his needs of freedom. He preferred to give his works the galleries on commission and then sell it directly on his own.

Back to the late 70s, when I met Jaber for the first time: I had purchsed several of his paintings and a sculpture but never met the artist. One Sunday afternoon in the Place Beaubourg, an arabic-influenced rock music had raised my attention and my gaze fell upon a lute, which had obviously been painted by Jaber. The instrument had only three or four strings and was mauled by a wild-looking man, a mixture of individual and dilapidated tramp, dressed in a white cloth, a battered fez and discharged jeans. At the end of his performance I went up to him, but before I could ask him if he knew where I could find Jaber, he grabbed my hand as we would have known each other for twenty years and said "I greet you Michel". I noticed only later, when I met him again, that it was then that I had met him for the first time in person.
Today Jaber is no longer in galleries , because he is too impatient to wait for sales. He comes every second or third day to show me his latest nightly creations. He works at night and sleeps in the morning and sell in the afternoon. Generously through and through , he distributed at the end of each afternoon everything that was not sold , to the first-best passers. Magnanimous and affectionate with friends, he is wary of strangers soliciting.

Jaber circumvents the prohibition of Islam, represent people by transforming figures in landscapes, a rose or a ladder in place of the nose, a fish or a boat as a mouth, a jasmine or bird's nest instead of hair. These elements are the same symbols, which in Tunisia, his home, refer, embedded in an endlessly repetitive landscape of sky, earth and sea.
A painting of Jaber is a picture puzzle, a treasure map to search for posterity. We must learn to decipher the depth of a world that is always cheerful and poetic, but nonetheless critical of Western society. His fascination with personalities with power is expressed repeatedly. As a former bread baker he needs bread to show politicians. In the hand of De Gaulle bread becomes a police baton, the Centre Beaubourg becomes a loaf, which encloses Pompidou and Chirac distributes bread among the poor: bread receives a social significance.

Jaber's works are easily recognizable by their labels: places or areas that have struck him that year and his signature in capital letters. Sometimes the pictures show the daily struggle for survival, the life of shepherds, farmers or fishermen and animals, where the big eat the small. «In real life, no one loves the other» Jaber says, «Everyone is trying to eat the other, and as for me, I'll eat myself». His work is hardly influenced from outside and independent . There are critics who complain his paintings beeing superficial or even regarded as mass-production. One should realize that his paintings are comparable to to improvisations musicians. His improvisations are dependent on any given day, but even on a bad day a Jaber remains a Jaber, full of emotion, poetry and warmth. His works are represented in the world's most important collections of Outsider Art: Chicago (USA) , Dicy (F ), Lagrasse (F ), Lausanne (CH ), New York (USA ) and Zwolle (NL).

(by Michel Ray)


Jaber Pinterestauf
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