By Karen Eng
Artist eL Seed fuses the beauty of Arabic letters with the modern art of graffiti — an art form he calls calligraffiti. He paints colorful, undulating messages of hope and peace on buildings all over the world — from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, to the bridges of Paris (the city where he was born), to the minaret of the mosque in Gabès, Tunisia (his family’s hometown).
We caught up with eL Seed a few weeks ago in Shoreditch, London, where he was painting a large-scale mural as part of the Shubbak Festival — his first UK commission. As he worked high above the street in a cherry-picker lift, the spectacle of his painting slowed traffic and drew a crowd of pedestrians. He took a break to talk to the TED Blog about growing up as an Arab in Paris, and how becoming a graffiti artist who uses Arabic script has shifted his perception of who he is.
What is this latest piece about, and how did it come about that you’re painting it?
The Shubbak Festival contacted me two years ago, asking me to come paint in London. They found me this wall, so I’m here for three days to paint it. The quote is from English philosopher John Locke, translated into Arabic: “It is one thing to show a man that he is in error, and another to put him in possession of truth.”
I chose this quote because I’m making this piece weeks after the massacre in Sousse, Tunisia, and the shooting in Charleston the same month. As a Tunisian man coming to the UK, I think the quote opens up a dialogue about the collective responsibility we have toward each other. War is individualistic — we always put blame on someone else. “It’s not my fault. It’s not my problem.” But the responsibility lies with all of us. It is our responsibility to bring those who perpetrate the crimes back, as well as to find a way to keep it from happening again.