French-Tunisian street artist eL Seed is bridging the gap between communities, challenging stereotypes, and promoting messages of peace and unity with “calligraffiti”.
Calligraffiti, a style of street art that fuses graffiti with Arabic calligraphy, has become eL Seed’s chosen medium to get messages out there into the public domain.
Using calligraphy as a tool to build bridges all over the world, whenever el Seed works within a community, he spends time researching to find an appropriate quote to summarise the voice of the community he is working within and to underline his key principals of love, respect and tolerance. He chooses the text carefully and also makes sure the words are translated effectively into Arabic.
For eL Seed, the meaning and message behind every piece of art is equally as important as the visual effect.
For his most recent artwork, Mirrors of Babel, el Seed created a tower-like sculpture which translated a 100-year-old Indigenous Mohawk poem into Arabic. The art installation “built out of words” was showcased as part of Toronto’s Nuit Blanche 2018. The 40-foot tall tower that honours immigrant and Indigenous voices now has a permanent home at the Kitchener-based multi-purpose events space, Lot42.
In Cairo, eL Seed set out to shine a light on the neighborhood of Manshiyat Nasr, where the Coptic community of Zaraeeb have been collecting the city’s trash for decades. The Zaareb community have developed the most efficient and highly profitable recycling system known worldwide, yet in their home country they have been given the name of Zabaleen (the garbage people) and their home perceived as “dirty”.
Questioning the level of judgment and misconception society can have upon a community based on their differences, eL Seed, with his team and the help of the local community, created an anamorphic piece, known as Perception, that covers almost 50 buildings only visible from a certain point of the Moqattam Mountain. The piece of art uses the words of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century, who said: “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.”
eL Seed says: “Every time I take on a project, there are a number of different stages I have to go through. First, I need to introduce myself to the community. It is important that they don’t see me as an outsider. Before I start, I make sure I learn as much about a place as possible and so, when I meet the people there, I have some level of understanding. After making initial contact, I also try to show people that whilst I am there, I plan to be part of the society and that the artwork I make is relevant and meaningful to them.
“Art, for me has the power to connect and unite and when I make an artwork, I leave it behind to live beyond me and take with me the memories of getting to know the people and the place.”
The street artist rose to prominence in 2012 with a mural commemorating Tunisia’s revolution, when he painted the minaret of Jara Mosque in his hometown of Gabes, in the south of Tunisia. For the minaret, eL Seed thought that the most relevant message to be display on the mosque’s wall should come from the Quran, and so he picked a verse that called for peace, tolerance, and acceptance.
eL Seed has gone on to create public artworks around the world in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, as well as Philadelphia, France and Cambridge.
Images Credit: eL Seed
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com