Joma’s voyage started in 2003, when the Spanish artist decided to draw symbolic lines connecting different cultures and civilizations in Mediterranean countries.
Instead of drawing lines on a map, Joma decided to travel himself and make a visual record of his footprints. “I decided to make connections by putting red dots in real places, he told Daily News Egypt.
He placed red plastic helmets at each destination and took a picture with his old school camera – no digital complements. He would then gather his helmets, move to the next spot and lay them out in an order and pattern that suits the backdrop.
For the first time since he started this project, Joma has decided to exhibit his work in progress in Cairo. A few steps underground in a small exhibition hall at the Mahmoud Mokhtar Museum, the show entitled “Endless Voyage is on display – organized by the Embassy of Spain and the Fine Arts Section of the Ministry of Culture.
Born Josep M. Rius, the traveling artist is a poetical (not political) cartoonist for a newspaper in Barcelona.
As the walls of the gallery are limited, this exhibit focuses solely on Egypt, featuring enlarged prints of photographs taken around the country. There is a smaller section dedicated to his voyages in Italy, Syria and Lebanon.
Some pictures capture contemporary Cairo, with the helmets scattered around a crowded downtown street. The red dots appear between the shisha smokers in the cafés lining the pavements of Talaat Harb.
Another section of the exhibition depicts people reading in a mosque, a Coptic church and at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
His travels around Egypt took him to many of the country’s landmarks, including a temple in Luxor and the Pyramids, where he gave a new spin to the cliché portrait of the three commanding structures in Giza. Instead, he captures less common ones like Abu Sir, adorned with helmets.
Joma likes to link the contemporary with the classic, placing pictures of ancient Egyptian statues beside photos of ordinary people in a market to illustrate the similarities in posture and body movements. Their efforts are the same, he said, both are trying to stand on their feet every day.
But why the red helmets? Simply because they were given to him as a gift. “I didn’t know what to do with 150 red helmets, says the artist with a thick Spanish accent, “So I got the idea to draw this line because people like to know that we are connected beyond media and politics.
To Joma’s astonishment, he has not been questioned or interrupted so far, and people barely look at him when he’s laying the helmets around and taking pictures.
“The helmets protect me because I am behind them.So people are not thinking what is this man doing, but instead [they wonder] what these helmets are, he said.
Before opening night, Joma was afraid his Western concepts would not be understood by different cultures. To his delight, Egyptian audience found his project appealing.
“I got plenty of comments that show that people are really playing with the idea and even offered me further suggestions, he said.
Joma will continue his voyage around the Mediterranean, threading the necklace using the red helmets as precious beads that connect cultures.
– Joma’s Endless Voyage, Gallery of Mahmoud Mokhtar Culture Center. Tel: (02) 2735 1123.