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eL Seed : “What matters to people is that we talk about them”

El Seed is a young French street artist of Tunisian origin uses Arabic calligraphy to call for peace and gathering. We met this philanthropist, poet and enchanter of the streets, who set out to conquer the walls of the world in order to bring cultures into dialogue.

There is no need anymore to introduce him. All over the world he is praised as the man who builds bridges between men and cultures thanks to his calligraffitis. El Seed has come straight from Dubai, where he currently has his workshop, to meet us. And it is such a surprise to find him so easygoing and relax! Without forgetting any of his Parisian habits, he asked to meet us in front of one of his most emblematic work in Paris, to give us a rundown of its artistic commitment.


Art is not an end in itself…

El Seed is among the types of people that, upon meeting him for the first time, you feel like you’ve known him forever. And with good reason; today, his works are unavoidable! Remarkable in their often impressive size and their vibrant colors, no one was able to miss, for example, the embelic facade of the Tour Paris 13 that he had tagged in blurred orange.

Unvarnished, and with frankness and modesty, he speaks to us about his art. “I am, actually – I don’t like to say ‘against’, but against the street art which is just for decoration, and we see it more and more”. If he offered in 2012 a pretty facelift to the mosque of Gabès, the city where he comes from in Tunisia, it would have nothing to do with decoration! “O men, you’ve been created from a male and a female and separate into peoples and tribes so that you meet”. This verse from the Qur’an that he tags there sounds like a manifesto. Indeed, what he seeks above all is to give meaning to walls and messages. “Sometimes, what is sad is that there isn’t any story behind, he confesses. What is painted in Paris could be painted in Portugal or in South Africa. I think street art has this vocation to connect people”.

4 years ago already #thepowercomesfromthesouth #gabes #tacapes #merciSultan #visittunisia??

Une publication partagée par eL Seed (@elseed) le

… It is only a pretext

Work is “just a way. It’s a background, while what really matters is what we created with people.” It’s what El Seed experienced and understood along the course of his project Perception, made in Garbage City in Cairo, where he met some garbage collectors. He was surprised with their generosity and their natural participation in the project, as well as their recognition toward the artist for having simply opened a dialogue with them and sought them out. It’s a revelation! “All this, it’s just a pretext. For me what I like, what I like the most in my work, is meeting people, it’s the human experience.

And across all the works that he has done in the world from Paris to Amsterdam, across all the Middle East and North Africa, from Rio favelas to the border between North and South Korea… eL Seed strove to meet inhabitants and to weave a link between them, with this continuous thread: calligraffiti. To be accepted, his method is simple: he introduces himself “I’m an artist, I would like to paint here.” the people at the start offer you a glass of water and the next day a cup of tea, the invite you to eat, then there’s a relationship which is created, and it’s what arrived.” Without a doubt, his simplicity and sincerity even won us over.

Meanwhile in Tunisia – Of my paternal grandfather, I have only a few memories of summers when we visited the El Sekiffa palm grove. I remember him as an old man, tired from sickness and lying on a mattress in a room. My brothers and I were only allowed to go in quietly and give him a kiss. Once memories fade, it becomes difficult to fill those voids. I arrive to find that El Sekiffa has become a stranger to me, one that I no longer recognize. When my grandfather passed away, my grandmother moved in with my uncles, leaving their home abandoned. She has since passed away. Four uncles and one aunt are still alive on my paternal side.I ask my father to reach out to them so I can meet them at my grandparents’ home. There, we found dishes and some tools on which time has left traces of its passage. I watch my uncles and aunt move in quiet through a room full of memories. #visittunisia?? #tb #temoula #lostwalls

Une publication partagée par eL Seed (@elseed) le

Walls that make people talk…

It sometimes takes him many months to find the relevant message, because what he’s looking for, before everything, is to “break stereotypes” and to fight against the “fear of differences”. Far from presumptions and in all honesty, eL Seed shares his certitudes: “What matters to people is that we talk about them… that we give them importance.”

That’s why he has chosen Arabic calligraphy, it has “this universal dimension which touches people, it touches hearts and doesn’t need translation.” This opens all the doors to him. “The fact of coming to someone’s home and to say ‘I will make a work that speaks of you.”, this touches people and then, they have to accept”. Yet, eL Seed refuses to consider himself as the only master of his works, beside his own teams, he co-creates with the local communities, without ever imposing an idea.”The idea is to share. I like to make people taking part to my work. Sometimes I ask to people to fill in colors”.

So, he has all reasons to be serene! “The fact that the community participates in a work, means it belongs to them, there is this transfer of ownership“, and in return, they act for the preservation of the work, as well as its dissemination.

“What you have to look for, what you have to build, is dialogue. I think that there is a lack of communication and understanding.”

Walls that witness history…

Like his mentor and friend, the photographer, JR, the master of the street made symbols from his media. He carefully chooses them. “I like to find places, which has a story, a texture… especially a story to tell.”

I believe this is the first time ever I am happy that I have to give up on a project. We were working on installing the second part of ‘The Bridge’ in North Korea. After we installed the first part in November 2017, the project remained unfinished until another art piece was installed in North Korea, thus making it the ultimate symbol unification but it looks like a big step was made today. Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae met this morning. This is incredible. When we started ‘The Bridge’ a year ago with @gyeonggimoma , the goal was to celebrate a call for reunification, unity and mutual respect between North and South Korea. My initial plan was to build a bridge-like sculptural artwork that represented the beginning of a bridge; a curved sculpture that rises up to 20 meters at DMZ, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. However, due to the security matters within the military zone the concept was fraught with difficulties and getting permission for the initial idea was difficult. Military restrictions would not allow this idea to be realized so instead, I proposed a horizontal laser-cut aluminium art piece installed on the fence of the DMZ. The art piece spells out the words of Kim Sowol, a poet from the Northern part of Korea who died before the country became divided.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ “You may remember, unable to forget: yet live a lifetime, remember or forget, For you will have a day when you will come to forget. You may remember, unable to forget: Let your years flow by, remember or forget, For once in a while, you will forget. On the other hand it may be: ‘How could you forget What you can never forget?”⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ‘The Bridge’ feeds the memories of the older generations with the souvenir of one united country, it stands as a reminder for the younger generations that there is a shared culture, language, and traditions and that art can bring people, culture and generations together beyond political conflict. #thebridge #unabletoforget #kimsowol #dmz #nocolorsallowed #ThankyouTaijin

Une publication partagée par eL Seed (@elseed) le

“The most important is to tell the story”.

He regrets that a lot of walls he is proposed to tag are very “sanitized, impersonal, functional. While [he] like[s] an abandoned thing, which has seen life passing and has become a witness of the history of what happened before”. To make walls witnesses and storytellers… This is the theme of his project “The Lost Walls”, which he has created with his team. They’ve all made a tour of Tunisia to meet forgotten communities and to make them visible  by painting them on the walls, those silent witnesses. A project that eL Seed would like today to adapt to other countries in the world… When street art becomes memory!

Published on 10 September 2018

#Contemporary Art