The French-Tunisian street artist transformed Cairo's 'Garbage City' and is back in his Dubai studio on Alserkal Avenue to change the whole world. By Anabelle Denford
“Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.” Saint Athanasius of Alexandria spoke these words over 2,000 years ago. Yet the phrase, translated into eL Seed’s distinctive caligraffiti and stretched across fifty dilapidated buildings, is relevant to the modern day community of Zaraeeb in Cairo.
“Every work has a story behind it,” the French-Tunisian street artist says. “In my most recent piece I wanted to raise the topic of perception and how society today creates misconceptions.”
You don’t need to read or write to understand it. Arabic can reach your soul before it reaches your eyes
eL Seed aims to shed positive light on a slum settlement known as ‘Garbage City with a mural that can only be seen in its entirety from the nearby Mokkatam Mountain, a circle of interweaving shapes and colours across the buildings.
“I wanted to create a symbol that forced people to look from the correct angle in order to see clearly. This area had the most powerful recycling system in the world, but still people looked at them like second class citizens because their image was attached to trash," he says.
It took eL Seed over a year to gain the trust of the community. “At the beginning people were suspicious, they had been segregated in this community for a long time and I was somebody new.”
Committed to changing the perception of a community as “dirty and poor” through his fresh, vibrant mural, eL Seed was welcomed by the community.
“People were greeting us every day, giving us lunch in their houses,” he says. “It really made you believe in humanity. Seeing people that have so little being so welcoming and so human, it was amazing. For me it was a life changing experience.”
eL Seed has made his mark across almost every continent. From a Tunisian family, he spent his adolescence in the Parisian suburbs balancing two cultures, languages, and identities.
“When I learned to write in Arabic as a teenager it became more of a quest of identity, trying to understand my Arabic roots. Then slowly I began building this artistic approach organically.
“You don’t need to read or write to understand and feel it. Arabic can reach your soul before it reaches your eyes,” he says, his work simultaneously reflecting his Arabic roots and experiences of Western urbanity.
eL Seed was originally inspired by the 2011 Tunisian revolution, his painting of the Jara Mosque for example bringing together Tunisia’s religious and artistic communities. In the years since, the work of the socially conscious artist has graced the walls of cities around the world including Paris, New York and Melbourne, with his most recent project in Egypt.
Recently unveiled at Art Dubai 2016 at the Global Art Forum, ‘Perception’ will be showcased as a documentary and a book is due to be published later this year.
Working from his Dubai studio on Alserkal Avenue, eL Seed considers Dubai a great location as an artist. “Alserkal Avenue gives you a view of Dubai that I didn’t know of. I am happy to be part of this creative movement growing here.”
When asked what message he would give to other artists in Dubai he says, “this is the right place to be because you are at the centre of the world. Use Dubai to make a change and change yourself.”