Tunisia’s Pioneering ‘Calligraffiti’ Artist eL Seed

eL Seed | © PopTech/ Flickr
eL Seed | © PopTech/ Flickr

Born in Paris in 1981 to Tunisian parents, eL Seed began his career on a much smaller, more modest scale, drawing, sketching and spray-painting walls throughout the streets of Paris. Having grown up speaking French and the Tunisian dialect of his parents, he did not learn to read or write Arabic until his late teens, when he discovered a deep love of and connection to his Arabic roots, along with their art, history and contemporary legacy. The title eL Seed was inspired at the age of 16 by the French work Le Cid, or ‘The Lord.’

Combining his love of street art with traditions of Arabic calligraphy, eL Seed has created a vibrant new form of ‘calligraffiti,’ a style originating in the late 1970s which combines graffiti and calligraphy. Dropping a career in business, he converted his passion for street art into a full-time career which allows him to embrace his heritage. His art draws on tradition in the belief that it can prompt important questions about contemporary issues, affecting tolerance and bringing people together. Different works of his art now adorn walls, buildings, museums, galleries and mosques around the world, from the streets of London and exhibitions in Paris to the road tunnels of Qatar, and even forays into the fashion industry in collaboration with Louis Vuitton, for whom he contributed designs for scarves.

Perhaps his most famous, even controversial work was the enormous 2012 mural on the minaret of the Jara Mosque in Gabès, Tunisia which drew worldwide media attention. Inspired by a verse from the Qur’an, the work calls for tolerance and mutual understanding between individuals and nations, particularly in response to the growing power of extremist, ultra-conservative Islamist groups since the 2011 revolution in Tunisia.

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