Absolute beauty is always troubling. With it comes a sense of pride and self-entitlement that is sometimes presumptuous and unmerited. For the residents of Zaraeeb, a Cairene Coptic community that exists in the neighborhood of the capital city’s Mokkatam Mountain, this notion is a part of an ethos they deeply appreciated long before the recent media attention the area has received. With the unveiling of renowned Tunisian Calligraffiti artist eL Seed’s latest stunning mural entitled ‘Perception’, the definition of absolute beauty takes on a complex approach, as the mural sheds light on and celebrates an area that is perceived as dirty, marginalized and segregated.
The project was carried out in Zaraeeb, Cairo, where its residents sort through, by hand, the capital’s daily garbage intake and with time, turned it into a highly profitable recycling system. We’re calling the mural beautiful, but did we ever perceive the community’s work as such? Through ‘Perception’, eL Seed effectively tackles this tricky question. The answer is inevitable, in the sense that society always has a tendency to judge, create misconceptions and divide opinions. This, in turn, divides communities based on these preconceived perceptions.
The beautiful mural is now being hailed as an exceptional feat of art, as eL Seed’s famed style for creating art that flawlessly blends the historic art of Arabic calligraphy and modern graffiti is poetic in effect. At Zaraeeb, he cited words from Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century, that reads in Arabic, ‘Anyone who wants to see the light clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.’ In order to execute this feat of art, the artist flew in a team of 21 people from all over the world, and over the course of three weeks, created a moving art piece that not only spans more than 50 buildings, but also involved the Zaraeeb community. Visible from only one point on top of Cairo’s Mokkatam Mountain, the art piece is best perceived when looking down from that point on to the city, to essentially percieve one complete circular art piece. The image was created using the addition of fluorescent white paint that was illuminated for one night only on the culmination of the project, for the people of the community. In carrying out his vision, the artist was deeply embraced by Zaraeeb’s residents. eL Seed explained in a post on Facebook, “Upon beginning the project, each building was given a number. Soon enough, each of these buildings became known as ‘the house of Uncle Bakheet, Uncle Ibrahim, Uncle Eid’. Each of these buildings is now associated with unforgettable memories.”
Commenting on the Zaraeeb community, eL Seed said, “They welcomed my team and I as if we were family. It was one of the most amazing human experiences I have ever had. They are generous, honest and strong people. They have been given the name of Zabaleen (the garbage people), but this is not how they perceive themselves. The Zaraeeb community is not poor but isolated, not marginalized but pushed away. They are just a reflection of our society. They don’t live in the garbage but from the garbage, and not their garbage but the garbage of the whole city.”
Born in the suburbs of Paris, eL Seed grew up to a world where cultures, languages and identities were constantly juggled. Embracing the west, while still holding on to his Middle Eastern roots, his work today represents these two worlds beautifully colliding, clashing, and blending to form a new identity. Such is his distinctive style; eL Seed successfully utilizes intricate composition in his work to not only achieve absolute beauty, but to also retain depth of meaning, movement, and impacting the viewer.
eL Seed’s art has been shown on the walls of many cities around the world including Paris, New York, Jeddah and Melbourne. In 2013, Condé Nast Traveler recognized him as one of the years ‘visionaries’ for advocating peaceful expression and social progress through his work. In 2013, eL Seed collaborated with the international luxury maison of Louis Vuitton, where he created a unique calligraffiti design for the classic monogram scarf, as part of the Foulards d’Artiste project. He is the first and only Arab artist to have designed a collaborative product for the famous French maison. In March 2015, eL Seed was chosen as one of the 21 ‘TED Fellows 2015’.
‘Perception’ was recently unveiled at Art Dubai 2016 at the Global Art Forum during an exclusive talk with Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The awe-inspiring mural has been lauded by the international media community, and the mural still continues to draw crowds to Zaraeeb. Organizing and planning the project alone took an exhaustive one year to realize. ‘Perception’ will be showcased in a documentary at a later stage and published in a book and comic for children.