“Bringing people, future generations, together through Arabic calligraphy is what I do. Writing messages is the essence of my artwork. What is funny, actually, is that even Arabic-speaking people really need to focus a lot to decipher what I’m writing. You don’t need to know the meaning to feel the piece. I think that Arabic script touches your soul before it reaches your eyes. There is a beauty in it that you don’t need to translate. Arabic script speaks to anyone, I believe; to you, to you, to you, to anybody, and then when you get the meaning, you feel connected to it. I always make sure to write messages that are relevant to the place where I’m painting, but messages that have a universal dimension, so anybody around the world can connect to it.” -eL Seed
French-Tunisian artist eL Seed travels the world spreading his art of calligraffiti – a style that blend the historic art of Arabic calligraphy with the modern art of graffiti. Through it, he creates a dialogue and promotes tolerance by changing people’s perceptions of what Arabic means. His grandest achievement yet is a sprawling mural that spans 50 buildings in the Manshiyat Naser neighborhood of Cairo. The piece can only be seen fully as one image from a local mountaintop.
Every mural he creates portrays a message of beauty and peace through quotes or poetry. He chooses the location to place a piece by where a message of hope and peace can do the most good. The piece in Cairo reads:
“Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.”
-Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic bishop from the 3rd century
He chose that quote for Manshiyat Naser, the part of Cairo where the garbage collectors live, to say that “if you want to go to a place and know its people, you cannot judge them without knowing them. You must get rid of the wrong ideas you have about them.”
From their experience with this project they discovered that the local people were not dirty as you would assume. It turns out they were not living in the garbage but from the garbage, which is totally different. Moreover, they do not think badly about what they do, on the contrary, they are proud of it. They know that without them, the whole city of Cairo would be engulfed in garbage. These garbage people are so amazing that they have created the most powerful recycling system in the world recycling 80% of the garbage they collect!
The mural required hundreds of liters of paint and a whole lot of teamwork to complete. Throughout the process, the team found themselves touched and their notions transformed by the community’s endless warmth and hospitality. “It was not about beautifying a place by bringing art to it,” eL Seed says. “It was about switching a perception and bringing dialogue.”
Eventually someday the art will disappear, but the memories they made while creating the art are forever. An emotional bond between the people and the place was formed. He says, “The experience of Perception was all about this. It went far beyond the artistic achievement and challenge…I saw so many people who need so much less than anyone else around the world, but who were so generous. The most important thing was the human experience, which will never leave me.”
To know more about how they manifested a mural of this size, and about their experiences with the people while doing it, watch his presentation about the art and humanity of an artwork that spans 50 buildings: