French/Tunisian artist eL Seed specializes in an art he calls ‘calligraffiti’; a blend of the historic art of Arabic calligraphy and the modern art of graffiti, it mixes street culture and Arabic history to poetic effect. The result is the beauty of written Arabic that we all love, mixed with the color and energy of modern feel and vitality. Born to Tunisian parents in the suburbs of Paris, eL Seed spent his formative years juggling different cultures, languages, and identities. Today eL Seed’s pieces have developed out of these two worlds colliding.
Sparked by the reaction to his largest project to date, the minaret of the Jara mosque in his home town of Gabes, eL Seed decided to set out on a month long personal journey across his mother country painting ‘Lost Walls’ along the way. The resulting book provides a unique and rare insight into the world of calligraffiti and the Tunisian people.
On the four-week road trip, eL Seed painted 24 walls in total, spanning the entire country, “Sometimes two walls in a day,” he says. The resulting book is a visual joy of landscape and lexicon alike with all the vibrant flare of graffiti. We check in with eL Seed to see how he made it all happen.
Were the towns you visited in Tunisia planned beforehand?
I knew where I wanted to go but I’d never been to a lot of the places before. Nothing was planned beforehand, except for the house of my grandfather. There were some places where we knew people already or knew someone who knew someone, so we always had one contact at least when we arrived. Most of the time we went to small towns, where literally nothing happens and the people were completely confused as to why we were there. I would tell them there is something here of interest but perhaps you just don’t see it. One guy said, “Sometimes you need somebody else to tell you how beautiful you are” and I like this phrase.
What was the most inspirational place you visited on your four-week journey?
I don’t think there is one place in particular, as each had its own story. I don’t want to distinguish between each city or town or the people that live there. The goal was to give a global image of Tunisia and show the depth and richness of Tunisia’s culture, people and traditions, and I believe I achieved this.
Who wrote the text in the book?
I wrote the text, and each text relates to the walls, the place itself and the people that I met there. Some walls don’t have any stories they are just lost. There was a wall on the road just abandoned in the middle of nowhere and I stopped and painted on it, for no reason at all, just for the sheer beauty of it. It was unexpected. Not all walls need to have a meaning or a purpose for me to paint them.
Do you feel like you reconnected with your country through Lost Walls?
Yes, absolutely. I knew Tunisia, but through Lost Walls I discovered a lot of things I didn’t know. The goal at the beginning was to have other people discover Tunisia but it actually was me discovering it too. That was the cool part. People should spend more time discovering their own countries. The beauty of it and the things you can discover will amaze you.
What do you want people to get from this project?
I want people outside of Tunisia that have never been there, to go and visit and discover its beauty. This alone could have an economic impact on the country. I also want the Tunisian people to be proud of what they have. The book is ultimately a message of hope. I paint on a wall and the people relate to it, and that is part of the joy of what I do.
How did the relationship with Jeffrey Deitch come about?
He presented a calligraffiti show in the early 80s in New York and I was part of the show revisiting this exhibition, 30 years later. The show was called Caligraffiti from 1984 – 2013 showcasing the new generation of artists and how the art of calligraffiti has been developed over the years. We didn’t meet at the show but I later met him at the Conde Nast Traveler Awards where he came to show his support for my work. I asked him to write the preface for my first book, because he’s such an influential figure in the world of calligraffiti, and he was willing to do so.
The book, Lost Walls is scheduled for international release this month and will be available to purchase on Amazon. For more information please follow eL Seed on Instagram .