Born to Tunisian parents in the suburbs of Paris, eL Seed is a ‘calligraffiti’ artist using intricate composition in his work to call not only on the words and their meaning, but also on their movement to lure viewers into a different state of mind. Rehab Butt takes a closer look at one his recent pieces of work on an urban scale that highlights a prevalent social issue through his characteristic peaceful yet powerful expression.
Manshiyat Naser is a district of Cairo that houses a slums dwelling known as the “Hayy-al Zabaleen” or “the Garbage City”. This name stems from the fact that the people living in these slums are those that collect and sort the trash of the city of Cairo. By default, these people are thus known as the “Zabaleen” or “the Garbage People”. Living without electricity, running water, and a sewage system, this community of Coptic Christians remain marginalized even in this modern day and age.
It is on the buildings within the heart of this community that eL Seed chooses to make a statement, capturing the dichotomy of the role of the people of Zaraeeb in his mural. From up close, his paintings appear to be just random shapes on the buildings much in the same way that the people who inhabit them appear to be just “trash collectors”.
However, viewed from another perspective a contrasting picture begins to emerge. The transformed surfaces take the form of a visual device charged with meaning. Movement through space and into the distance activates the seemingly arbitrary floating imagery as they begin to coalesce, changing the inherent meaning and reading of the entire urban context.
These very collectors of trash are, according to eL Seed, “generous, honest and strong people”. It is these people who have developed an efficient way of reusing and recycling the garbage, essentially doing what needs to be done and what no one else wants to do. Although they are marginalized for the work that they do, eL Seed reminds us that “it is not their garbage, but the garbage of the whole city”, and it is these people and their work that keeps the entire city of Cairo clean.
The classical art of Arabic calligraphy combined with the modern art form of graffiti has given rise to eL Seed’s signature style of “calligraffti”. This style of calligraffti is used on approximately 50 buildings to form the anamorphic piece that spans the urbanscape. The complete beauty of the mural can only be seen from a specific vantage point in the Muqattam Mountains. It is from this position that those seemingly random shapes that mark the walls, come together to form an alluring piece of art. Vivid in shades of blues, oranges, and yellows, the painting uses the words of a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd Century, Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, who stated:
‘Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.’
‘إن أراد أحد أن يبصر نور الشمس، فإن عليه أن يمسح عينيه’
Aptly entitled “Perception”, eL Seed asks viewers of his urban-scaled art piece to wipe their eyes and challenge their own misconceptions and often skewed perceptions in order to truly appreciate the beauty that may lie within.