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El Seed’s latest calligrafitti sculpture

Words by Rob Chilton

A new piece of calligraffiti sculpture from Dubai-based artist eL Seed outside the opera house was inspired by his love of the city

Currently on the reading list of Dubai artist eL Seed is a 900-page book about the Congo. “There’s something I need to do with it,” says the French-born calligraphy street artist. “I don’t know what it is yet, but I think I need to go to Congo.”

His large-scale paintings and sculptures always start with a dusty stack of books. “Reading about history and finding a point of connection is really interesting for me,” he tells EDGAR. “Research is the part of my work people don’t see and it’s the part that takes the most time. I did a project in Egypt two years ago that took five months to research. Last year I did a project in the DMZ between North Korea and South Korea and that took three months of research to find the right word.” The right word is the gateway to eL Seed’s art. “I get most happiness, not from finishing the artwork, but when I find the word that I want to write.”

eL Seed has made art in France, Brazil and America (above)

eL Seed’s calligrafitti has been seen in Paris, New York, Rio and Cape Town. “I go and make artwork in places that have stories to tell,” he says. His most famous work was a huge 2016 urban mural in Cairo that covered 50 buildings in a part of the Egyptian capital known as the garbage district because of its lowly-paid inhabitants who recycle the city’s waste. The painted wrap in his distinctive calligraffiti bears the words of a third century Bishop: ‘If one wants to see the light of the sun, he must wipe his eyes.’

eL Seed in Dubai

eL Seed’s latest project is Declaration, an eight-metre long, pink metal sculpture outside Dubai Opera that takes words from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai: “Art in all its colours and types reflects the culture of the nations, their history and civilisation.” In November 2018 the artwork stood in front of a temporary installation set up by Italian wool company Loro Piana that was draped in a wrap designed by eL Seed. As usual, it all started with a history book.

Dubai Opera sits in the background

“The wrap was based on a poem called The Treasury by Alfonso X who ruled Spain in the 13th century,” he explains. “He was a man of literature, art and science who wrote that being rich is not about being wealthy but about character. That was the message I wanted to portray.”

The Burj Khalifa peeps through the sculpture

Born in Paris to Tunisian parents, the 37-year-old eL Seed sighs, “People on Twitter get angry and say I’m a Tunisian-French artist, but other people say I’m French-Tunisian because I was born in Paris.” What’s his view? “I don’t care,” he shrugs.

He enjoyed a residency at Tashkeel art hub in Dubai and now works out of a studio at Alserkal Avenue. “We have a lot of ideas and projects going on at the moment so it’s a question of logistics,” he explains. “I’m trying to raise the bar. I have one project in mind in the next two years that, if I manage to do it, will be crazy.”

eL Seed's renowned mural in Cairo

Whatever that project is, it’ll be hard to top his Cairo mural. “That was an amazing moment,” he says with a smile. “There was more interest in my work after that. One guy in my team said it must feel a bit like after Michael Jackson made Thriller – now people are expecting something bigger! But it’s not about creating something big, it’s about creating something meaningful.”

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