November 11th, 2011
06:09 PM ET

Arabic graffiti artist plans mural for Tunisia

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:

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Filed under: Art • Innovation • Music • Thinkers
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. 携帯電話ケーブル

    白子のり 味いろいろ詰合せ AJ-CO<※【お歳暮?おせいぼ?出産内祝?お返し?ギフト?結婚内祝?快気祝?香典 返し】>sb13
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    August 30, 2014 at 12:55 am | Reply
  2. Chabswkr

    これが先週買って今日引き取りに行ってきた今日初打ちのマッスルな友人です。     敵の3打目のアプ40y位が50cm位に寄ってしまった。 714 CB
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    714 CB 「ゼクシオカップロングランコンペ フェニックス&トムワトソン2日間2プレー」という商品名で、オープンコンペの形でANAで企画されています。 まあ、どうでも良い事ですが私がゴルフを再開して真っ先に購入したのがこの「ツアー・ブレード2003年モデル」中古の2Iから通しのセットでした。
    mizuno jpx 825 アイアン
    中古クラブをバラスととんでもない錘の量に驚くことがあります。 そして、昭和天皇は、合祀された翌年から、靖国神社参拝を一切しなくなりました。 714 CB アイアン
    #7から下は、まだS400のままで、振れますね。 マツくん 95-94 189 後半は一打改善。
    mizuno jpx 825 irons ネットタイム3時間51分台、誠におめでとうございます。 ショートホールは全部ボギーでロングホールは全部バーディー、ミドルは全部パーである。
    mizuno 825 irons

    April 30, 2014 at 1:24 am | Reply
  3. rhonda Zabinsky

    I love this! Amazing art and speaks to the beat on the street. I love that it is positive and bright and thoughtful work. thank you el seed.

    November 13, 2011 at 5:31 am | Reply

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