eL Seed uses Arabic calligraphy and a distinctive style to spread messages of peace and to underline the commonalities of human existence.
Mirage - Al Ula
Whether painting on canvases, walls, or crafting large-scale steel sculptures, eL Seed employs what is known as calligraffiti—melding traditional Arabic calligraphy with the style and colors of graffiti—writing meaningful quotes across his chosen surfaces. His artwork is a tool for unifying communities and redressing stereotypes, and can be found all over the world.
His work has been shown in exhibitions and in public places across the globe including most notably on the façade of L’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, in the favelas of Rio di Janeiro, on the DMZ in between North and South Korea, in the slums of Cape Town and in the heart of Cairo’s garbage collectors neighbourhood.
We talk to el Seed about creating a unique calligraffiti style, how his identity and cultural heritage has influenced his practice, using art as a tool for social change and his thoughts on the future of Islamic art and Arabic calligraphy.
Can you tell us a bit about your childhood and your journey to becoming an artist?
My childhood was happy and I was raised in the suburbs of Paris. I always say that we don’t become an artist, we are an artist and then there are circumstances that happen in life that allow us to express our artistic touch. I have been painting and drawing since I was a kid but never thought I could make a living out of it. I have grown organically with art and today I realize I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
You’ve said that your calligraphy is different from the traditional Arabic style of calligraphy. For those who may not be familiar with Arabic calligraphy, what are some of its trademark components and how is it different from the style you use in your work?
I don’t call myself a calligrapher. To call yourself as a calligrapher you must have been trained by master calligrapher and this goes on 1400 years back. I was not reading and writing Arabic until was 18. When I discovered calligraphy, I didn’t know there were rules in it. When I started practicing calligraphy, I just took traditional calligraphy, playing with letters extending them, twisting them. Later on, when I started developing my own style of calligraphy, people started telling me before I broke the rules, I should learn them and then I realized actually I don’t want to learn them because I don’t want to be conditioned by rules. Ideally, I see art as a kind of free expression of my soul and mind, and I would never learn it - I will be free in this way.
Can you tell us more about how your Arabic calligraphy has helped reconcile your two identities as a French-Tunisian, and cultural heritage?
I was born and raised by French and Tunisian parents. In my teenage years I had a bit of an identity crisis where I couldn’t define whether I was Tunisian or French and was trying to reconcile with this. I felt society was trying to push me to choose a definition of who I was. At first, I emphasized my Tunisian identity by learning how to read and write Arabic. Then I realized after practicing calligraphy that I would never be able to do what I am doing if I was not a French. Arabic calligraphy helped me reconcile my French and my Tunisian identity and today I use it as a way to create bridges between people culture and generations.
How has the artistic freedom of street culture, and creating street art influenced your practice?
Painting on the wall gives you the freedom in the sheer fact that you are seen creating in public spaces, outdoor not inside confined by the four walls. Graffiti in general was the organic culture built by its own practitioner and fact that there were no rules, no school of thoughts. It’s something that grows organically and I think this gave me my freedom as an artist, to create my calligraphy as it is today.