By John D. Sutter, CNN
During the Tunisian revolution early this year, artists did something that would be been rare and forbidden before the change in power:
They tagged the walls of the country with political graffiti.
In the months since the uprising, however, many of the images - some of which showed police beating protesters, caricatures of the fallen President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and tributes to the fruit vendor whose act of self-immolation started the uprising - have been whitewashed.
Wrote one photographer, Matthew Cassel, who visited Tunisia in May:
At 8 a.m. a few workers were finishing painting over all traces of revolutionary graffiti. When I told my friends they couldn’t believe it: This was the people’s graffiti and no one had the right to remove it, especially not in such haste. Decades of corruption and suffocating oppression can’t be erased as quickly as paint on walls can be covered up.
A new project from the French graffiti artist eL Seed aims to replace some of what was lost.
eL Seed, who creates complex geometric pieces of art out of Arabic script, said he has been invited to Tunis to paint a mural in honor of the revolution.
The mural, which he plans to start painting on Sunday, will cover a blank wall on a four-story building.
On that surface, he plans to write this phrase:
If you don't want to climb the mountain, just go live in a foxhole.
In keeping with his style, eL Seed will not include an English or French translation of that Arabic script - which will show up as a maze of angles and dots that's almost unrecognizable from traditional Arabic writing.
He won't sign his name to the piece either.
Both subtitles and tags take away from the beauty of Arabic calligraphy, he says.
"When you put the meaning of calligraphy in Arabic you're losing the poetry of it - the meaning meaning of it - because (the viewer is) going to just be focused on the French or English sentence," he said. "And I believe Arabic script and Arabic poetry speak to people even if they don't understand it."
He added: "If you want to know what it says, just learn Arabic."
The fact that many Arabic-language graffiti artists feel the need to translate their work is a sign of Western cultural imperialism, he said.
Here's an example of his work - a piece he created this fall in Maine at the PopTech conference:
The white space in the mural was created with masking tape, which eL Seed removed after he painted the background.
The roots of this type of work dig into the history of Islam, since many Muslims traditionally were not allowed to create public art that included images of people or animals. Out of those restrictions developed a "proverbial tradition" of painting geometric shapes instead. eL Seed has picked up on those traditions - creating colorful murals out of dramatic, spray-painted words and phrases.
The act of painting in Arabic scrip is inherently political, he said.
"My work, even if I don't want to politicize it, is politicized," he said in an interview last month at the PopTech conference in Maine, where he was a speaker. "I'm born in France and from Tunisian roots, so the fact that I paint in Arabic - all the meaning you have below that - just brings up some political issues."
Now living in Montreal, eL Seed is also planning an upcoming exhibition in Canada called Arab Winter.
He wants to make the point that not everything is blooming in the Arab world after the wave of revolutions that Tunisia kicked off.
"The flowers are dead now," he said. "We're still waiting to see what's going to happen."
To see more of eL Seed's art, check out his website.
Here's another video about his process: