eL Seed

ASM: Who is eL Seed?

ES: An Arabic Calligraffiti Artist; a Letter Contortionist; a Line Tamer.

ASM: You said you got into Calligraphy and Arabic Graffiti as a quest for identity. Can you elaborate more on this? In addition, what and who inspired you to get into them?

ES: I was born and raised in France by Tunisian parents and have always been connected to my homeland. Even though I have lived most of my life in Paris, I have never felt really French. I felt the deep desire to get back to my roots; learn about my origins, history (my real history), culture and language. I started taking classical Arabic classes, which led me to discover classical Arabic calligraphy. I was interested in professional classes to learn more about this ancient art, but did not find any professors in Paris; and so, I put aside calligraphy temporarily to focus on painting. It is when I moved to North America years later where I met the French artist Hest, I took the step to infuse my culture into my art- in other words, Arabic into Graffiti. It was obvious for me that I could not do anything else.

ASM: You seem to pull from treasured philosophies in your artwork. Is this something you consciously made sure you highlighted or did you bring forth that side as you grew as an artist? And do you see a difference in your work when your first began in comparison to your more recent works- from the thought process to the finish?

ES: My art is inspired by the old proverbial tradition where the message remains and the name disappears. The essence of this is to speak of topics relevant to society, such as the current social condition, love, politics, and so on. However, it was not always like that. I was into the narcissistic aspect of Graffiti for a while – writing only my name. After a while, it did not make sense to me anymore. My art should be a window into society-a tool of reflection.

ASM: Can you tell us-if any, the difference between Arabic graffiti and graffiti seen in the States or Europe or other types of graffiti?

ES: Arabic Graffiti and Graffiti from the States or Europe take their essence from the same source- Hip Hop. Both are subversive and vectors for social change. Graffiti in the States was and is a way to mark your existence-a way to show your presence. The difference with Arabic Graffiti is in the way it is conceptualized. Arabic Graffiti takes its roots from classical calligraphy where the focus is on the message Al Rissala. You do not paint your name because Arabic Graffiti does not look for the anonymous fame. What is important is the message.

"…My art is inspired by the old proverbial tradition where the message remains and the name disappears…"

ASM: With the situations in regions such as Libya, Egypt, Syria and even other countries around the globe, do you feel more inclined now more than before to drive home the point of how the people feel through your work?

ES: You know, since the so-called Arab Spring started in my homeland, it has become exotic to be Tunisian. People are now more willing to listen to you and to what you have to say. I am using this opportunity to tell more about what is going on in my country and the Arab World in general; and how we can recreate and reform our own societies. My people need to take their destiny back and rebuild their pride. I am using my art to work into this societal project. I recently painted a large mural in Tunisia to commemorate the first year of the Revolution. I had never before seen in my country what I experienced during this mural creation. The people and authorities helped me and each other build this huge project. It was amazing!!

ASM: What do you want people from Africa, North America to Europe and Asia to know about the Arabic language, art and culture?

ES: I want people to learn something different than what they see in the mainstream media. Thus, breaking the stereotypes that people have about Arabs, Persians and Muslims in general. I believe my art is a way to break the cultural imperialism that we are all facing.

ASM: Street Art and Graffiti seem to have a negative association in many places. How is it received in countries you have been to from your home country of Tunisia to Egypt and others?

ES: When the word graffiti is used, it is always perceived as vandalism wherever you go. The context in each Arab Muslim-majority country is different from the context in countries in the West. In the former, my line of work is new to the people because they have never experienced it. But since the Revolution started, there are more and more writings on the walls. The Revolution has created new artists in the Arab World-now it is how the artist approaches it. One can write on walls legally or illegally but must do so in a proper way by bringing relevant issues to the streets and at the same time democratizing art.

"…I enjoy the process of democratizing art and including many different folks in the process of art creation; therefore helping to instill pride and purpose through Street Art…"

ASM: What would you say are your proudest moments since you became an artist?

ES: My latest mural project in Tunisia filled me with immense pride and love for my country and fellow citizens. It happened exactly one year after the beginning of the Tunisian Revolution in the city of Kairouan. I organized this project with a group called El Khaldounia. I finished the mural in eight days with the support of six individuals who spontaneously offered their assistance. Although I do not hold a romanticized view of the revolution, I could not pass the opportunity to create a piece to commemorate the unity of Tunisia. I felt it important to honor the significance of the uprising and my people's immense courage. All the more pertinent, the town of Kairouan has been a hub of innovation and inspiration since the seventh century; and is dubbed as "the Islamic Cultural Capital to this day. The mural I created is positioned just beyond the turrets of the old Medina in Kairouan. During the Revolution, this specific wall had served as a public message-board of sorts. Every day people wrote messages on the wall to express the fears, hopes, and frustrations. Shamelessly painted over after the revolution, it is fitting that now this Journal of the People has been transformed into a permanent artistic stamp. The mural now stands as a celebration of the unity of the Tunisian people that managed to change the course of their own history, and the histories of many others around the globe. The mural offers a message of hope and reminds Tunisians that tyranny does not prevail.

ASM: What new projects are you working on?

ES: Mainly projects in my homeland; working with the youth in less advantaged towns and neighborhoods. I enjoy the process of democratizing art and including many different folks in the process of art creation; therefore helping to instill pride and purpose through Street Art.