French-Tunisian street artist eL Seed incorporates traditional Arabic calligraphy into his graffiti art, a style he calls calligraffiti. Using Arabic calligraphy to spread messages of peace and unity, his artwork can be found all over the world, with the aim to unify communities and break stereotypes.
“The best graffiti artists were always doing much more than just writing their names,” reflected the artist in an interview with Savoir Flair. “The really good ones had connections with abstract expressionism, with pop art. They were doing something much bigger.”
According to eL Seed, the really great graffiti artists were much more than just taggers. “And the audience has yet to understand that the best artists could be street artists; street artist and artist are not separate categories.”
Unlike taggers, eL Seed has consciously used his art as a tool of political expression, aiming to spark political change through it. His work, more often than not, underlines his key principles of love, respect, and tolerance. Named a Global Thinker in 2016 by Foreign Policy for his project “Perception” in Cairo, eL Seed has also won the UNESCO Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture in 2017.
“I am a street artist, because I paint in the street. I am a Middle Eastern artist, because I paint in Arabic,” he relayed. “So I’m a Middle Eastern street artist. You always have to prove something. There are several levels of it.”
“My point is to not get rid of that categorization; I know my roots and the roots of my art are the street, and the roots of my art are Arabic, but bringing it to a level where people don’t look at me as only this is the biggest challenge. Step by step, I am trying to work on that.”
Indeed, his work is displayed both in public spaces and exhibitions. Most notably, he has painted on the façade of L’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, on the DMZ in between North and South Korea, in the slums of Cape Town, and in the heart of Cairo’s garbage collectors neighborhood.