eL Seed: City-wide calligraffiti
This mega-mural by street artist eL Seed spans the walls of 50 buildings in a Christian Coptic community in Cairo
Tunisian French street artist eL Seed grew up in Paris, where he joined the late 1990s street art scene as a teenager. In his early twenties he began exploring his roots – Arabic visual culture, the classic language and its script. He taught himself calligraphy and began combining this new skill with the energy of street art. Moving to Montréal in the mid-2000s, he experimented with huge letterforms in abandoned factories, developing a unique style of Arabic calligraffiti – a term used for work that mixes writing traditions with the scale, physicality, public presence … and the brushes and aerosols of graffiti.
In 2010 eL Seed took part in the Islamic Art Festival in Sharjah (UAE), and in the next decade his work took on a socio-political dimension. He undertook a ‘calligraffiti journey’ across Tunisia in 2013, leaving his monumental rendering of poetic quotes relevant to the site on both abandoned ruins and buildings at the centre of daily life.
The first major work that received international attention was his large-scale writing on the unadorned concrete tower of a mosque in his home town Gabés, later celebrated in Lost Walls (From Here to Fame). His work has since grown in scale and ambition, moving beyond the customary single-wall piece and introducing perspective and dimensionality into hand-painted wall pieces. Based on texts by authors from across the world, they use the Arabic script, relying upon its soulfulness and charisma to connect with those who do not read the language.
eL Seed’s anamorphic mural spans 50 façades in Cairo’s Manshiyat Naser district. In 2018 eL Seed published Perception, a personal account of the project, art directed by Cătălina Zlotea and printed by Fontegrafica in Milan using recycled paper made in Manshiyat Naser. The photobook (from which these pictures are taken) documents the process.
eL Seed is first and foremost an artist. Yet in the shaping of text, the carefully planned layouts and the fusion of word and image his work moves on the frontier of graphic design.
He calls himself ‘an artist with a humanist intention’. The work is spectacular, thoughtful and idealistic. His mission is to ‘break the stereotypes’ – to provide antidotes against the prejudices that divide humans and to build bridges between cultures and religions. He has worked with museums and galleries, but also with local communities from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town; from Lebanon to Korea. He now lives and works in Dubai, where he is part of a new artistic underground community.
His most ambitious project so far is the mega-mural he realised in Manshiyat Naser, a community of Christian Coptics in central Cairo who make a living by collecting rubbish, reusing and even upcycling it. He executed this mural (Perception) with an international team, assisted by many locals. The result is a work that includes the walls of 50 buildings and is best observed in its entirety from a high hill on the edge of the neighbourhood. Perception has been lavishly documented in a limited-edition book, art directed by Romanian designer Cătălina Zlotea. A paperback version was published by Point à la Ligne (Milan). The project was not an exercise in colourful decoration, but, says the artist, ‘about switching perception, and opening a dialogue with communities that we don’t know.’
Jan Middendorp, designer, writer and author of Dutch Type, Berlin
First published in Eye no. 100 vol. 25, 2020
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