EL Seed’s calligraffiti adorns walls in Tunisia and the world
Children raced in the streets to the wall opposite the main train station of La Marsa, a coastal neighbourhood in Tunis, where graffiti artist eL Seed was painting his latest mural. Soon the children tried their hand at painting under his guidance.
The piece attracted the attention of locals who greeted and praised eL Seed for his internationally acclaimed work. His murals can be found in Paris, Brazil and throughout the Arab world.
Born in France to Tunisian parents in 1981, eL Seed started as a graffiti artist in the late 1990s, displaying his work on the streets and abandoned corners of France.
“I had an identity crisis in France so I wanted to go back to my roots, go back to Tunisia to study and learn Arabic,” eL Seed said. “And that is how I found out about calligraphy. I found a teacher to learn the craft from and I started working on mixing graffiti art and calligraphy to have what I am doing today.”
EL Seed is known around the world for fusing street art with Arabic writing. He calls it calligraffiti, a word that reflects the artist’s interest in modern street art and Arabic culture.
“I decided to go on my own projects and my own stuff and that is how I got introduced to new communities that are not familiar with the work that I do. It is quite interesting to bring Arabic script to places that are unfamiliar with it, like Brazil and streets of Paris,” eL Seed said.
“I always try to bring things that are relevant to the place where I am painting a new piece, even if it is in a writing that they do not understand. That way people can feel a connection to the piece.”
EL Seed’s murals are found across Tunisia. One of his most controversial pieces is a 2012 painting on a minaret in the southern town of Gabes. The artist recalled that the piece was reaction to the clashes between religious groups and artists in Tunisia following the revolution.
“It was something political at the time as everything was shaking in Tunisia. I wanted to paint a wall that no one repainted and was standing there bare for years. The imam was happy about the project and gave his blessings and we chose a verse from the Quran to send a message,” eL Seed said.
The minaret calligraffiti reads: “Oh Mankind, we have created you from a male and a female and made you people and tribes so you may know each other.”
“We chose a verse from the Quran that emphasises the importance of unity. That is the goal, to bring people together despite their differences and to bring unity to the community,” eL Seed said.
In 2014, eL Seed travelled around the country painting murals in towns across Tunisia for a project he called Lost Walls.
“I thought it would be good to go back to Tunisia, see places that people forgot about, their history and to try to bring it to the light, like we did with the minaret of Gabes. Lost Walls came from that inspiration,” eL Seed said.
For many, eL Seed’s calligraffiti, relying on Arabic writing as it does, might seem undecipherable. Yet, the artist stresses that his pieces are to be experienced aesthetically before reading the layers it contains.
“It is more about how people see it. I want them to see it as an abstract piece, to enjoy and feel it,” he said. “And then there is a second layer. When you see the piece, I want you to feel connected to it, then you are free to embark on the many layers to understanding the piece,” eL Seed said.
EL Seed’s latest project, Perception, displayed in Cairo, draws heavily on the ideas of misconception and prejudgment.
“It is about perception and how sometimes people judge others based on the wrong ideas in the community. I wanted to visit the garbage city where people live from garbage and create an art piece which will be so big that the light will be put back on the community, and that was the point,” eL Seed said.
He said he hopes his work and the recognition he has received has inspired young graffiti artists in Tunisia and elsewhere.
“There is a growing community of graffiti artists in Tunisia. They should take new initiatives instead of waiting for an event,” eL Seed said.
“They should not follow and copy others. Do not be someone else. They should be proud of themselves and their heritage. They should show the beauty of their work.”