ART AFRICA met with the French-Tunisian graffiti artist EL SEED about his latest project 'Perception', the value of space in the workshop and the role of graffiti in the transition in Tunisia.
ART AFRICA: You grew up in Paris in a family of Tunisian origin. What triggered your vocation as an artist and how has this experience shaped your career?
El Seed: I have always been painting, I've even into memories that go back to my childhood. No one encouraged me to become an artist when I was young. Actually, I could not conceive it as possible. I pursued a career in business, but it was killing me slowly. There are seven years old, I decided to give that up and devote myself to art. Since then I have never stopped.
In 2012, community organization Al Khaldounia invited you to decorate the Mosque of Jara in your hometown Gabes (Tunisia). Tell us about this project and the project 'Lost Walls' which ensued.
I had worked with Al Khaldounia Kairouan on a community project in 2011. The Mosque Jara was my personal initiative. I wanted to create a work of art in my hometown of Gabes and he was the minaret of the mosque, built in 1994, had never had painted. With the help of Al Khaldounia, we made contact with the Imam of the Mosque and the mayor of the city. They loved the idea, and the whole community was in favor. Gabes has remade a name. A year later, after seeing the impact of the proposed Mosque Jara city of Gabes, I decided to make a great trip to Tunisia and decorate some towns and villages, highlighting the history and the heritage of these places. This project resulted in a book published in French and English.
How do you think this project he is in the political context in which you work? Do you think that street art has played a role in the transition of the country, as a trigger debate?
artists often said that creating revolutions, but I think that Tunisia is the revolution that created the artists. This served as a great platform for citizens to express themselves. I think street art is a tool for the transition. Several cultural initiatives have been launched to give pride to the people. I think this is how we rebuild a country, restoring pride to the citizens.
In previous interviews, you mentioned not to sign or bring your works. You worked all over the world and you met in the West people who fear anything that comes from the Arab world, and that same offended. How do you think this autonomy, that is to say the work that exists independently of context, can it challenge the misconceptions that is what comes from the Arab world?
Each work of art I create is associated with the place where it is produced. There is always a context that determines the purpose of the work of art. I forward a message with my calligraphy style. I always make sure that these messages are both significant to the community in which I work, and have a universal dimension to which everyone can join. Arabic calligraphy embodies this universal beauty that does not need to be translated. Each person who suffers contemplate emotion. In a way, I try to demystify the Arabic script.
One of your latest projects, Perception (2016), deals with myths about the Coptic community in Cairo Zaraeeb. Having worked so closely with this community would undoubtedly have been a revelation for you. Tell us about this project and tell us the experiences you have lived there.
My new project, Perception, I question the prejudices and misconceptions that society can be unconsciously a community it perceives as différente.Dans neighborhood Manshiet Nasser, Cairo, the Coptic community Zaraeeb picks up the garbage of the city for decades and has developed recycling system the most efficient and most profitable globally. Yet this place is perceived as dirty, it is marginalized and sidelined.
I wanted to highlight this community. With the help of my team and the local community, I created an anamorphic covering fifty buildings but that is only visible from one location to the mountain of Mokattam. This work of art transcribed the words of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic bishop of the third century, that: "Anyone who wants to see the light of day must first wipe his eyes."
Zaraeeb the community gave us a friendly welcome to my team and myself. This was one of the most enriching human experiences I have ever had. These people are a generous people, honest and strong. Then they received the name of zabaleen (garbage collector people), they do not associate with the name. They do not live in the trash, but the trash; not their garbage but those of the entire city. They are the ones who clean the city of Cairo.
You also produced work for art galleries, paintings and sculptures. It is a world apart. Do you think this approach is consistent with your work for the general public? What will be your future direction?
I consider my work in art galleries as a continuation of my work as a graffiti artist, albeit with an extra dimension. Sometimes this can be good to work in a closed environment like in my studio where I can experiment with as I please. I try to focus right now on my sculptural work.