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‘I want to do something unique in Bangladesh’

  • Published at 04:34 pm July 8th, 2019

World renowned calligraphy artist eL Seed has chosen Bangladesh as the location for his next work

French-Tunisian calligraphy artist eL Seed’s works are equal parts craftsmanship and call to humanism. As his medium of work is Arabic, the language of Quran, it also evokes theology, which in fact has been the intention of the artist on some occasions. 

His acclaimed work - and which first brought him into prominence -  was calligraphy of a verse from the Muslim holy book. “Oh humankind, we have created you from a male and a female, and made you people and tribe, so you may know each other” - eL Seed inked beautifully in black and white on a minaret of a Tunisian mosque in Gabes, the artist’s hometown. 

Since then eL Seed’s work appeared in many parts of the world. Between commissioned work and his own projects, eL Seed makes trips to different countries to choose the location of his next work. This time, the internationally renowned artist has chosen Bangladesh, where he just finished a brief visit in June. 

“In every two/three years I pick a location for my project. I go to the place and try to get a feeling of the environment,” eL Seed said while he was in Dhaka. 

Location is very important for a calligraphic work, he said. It functions as one of the three ‘layers’ in his particular type of art.

The first is the outward aesthetic of the piece, how it appears to the eyes of the viewer, eL Seed explained. Since calligraphy is written words, the second layer to a work is what it says. And the final is why the work is placed where it is. 

These aspects are very important to eL Seed, the location especially given his works are meant to be permanently placed, as opposed to being exhibited for a limited time. 

eL Seed’s work is often categorized as ‘calligraffiti’ because of its roots in street graffiti art tradition. But the artist now distances himself from the term because of its ‘meaningless’ and arbitrary use. 

His calligraphies, as he prefers to call them now, have made their way into many different regions, from the Korean peninsula to Europe, from the Middle East to Africa and in the Americas. In short, all over the world.

Many of these are characteristic painting works on walls and buildings in cities, as well as on small mud walls in deserts. As eL Seed moves more towards multimedia work, his stunning 3D calligraphy installations are becoming more frequent. 

His recent installation work in Toronto, commissioned by the city, is among a series of works that experiment with sculpted structures. “I have gravitated more toward sculpture or installation work,” said eL Seed.

But his most publicised work, a giant mural titled ‘Perception’ has been in the paint form. It is not one dimensional, however. 

The project, situated in the neighborhood of Manshiyat Nasr in Cairo, encompasses about 50 buildings and only fully visible from the nearby mountain top, where it astoundingly comes together and forms one image to the observer. 

But it was not a mere art trick designed to dazzle, rather a metaphoric representation of the message. The mural aims to change the perception people have of the Coptic community of Zaraeeb, which has been collecting the trash from the city for decades. 

They are known as the ‘people of garbage,’ "even though it is them that get rid of it." In fact the community has developed a very efficient and highly profitable recycling system. Yet, the neighbourhood is seen as a dirty place. eL Seed wanted to challenge this perception. 

His anamorphic work spanning nearly 50 buildings and visible in its entirety from a certain point of the Moqattam Mountain, uses a quote from Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century: “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.”

eL Seed spends considerable amount of time to get the perfect quote for his work. He also strives to internalize the spirit of the local community. “I read everything I can about the community or society where I create my work,” said eL Seed. 

Currently amassing reading materials on Bangladesh, the artist plans to study a lot about the country and come back before the end of this year and start working on his project. 

“I’m planning something unique for Bangladesh. It will be something that I have never done before. And I will premier it here,” eL Seed told Dhaka Tribune.

The artist visited a small community on the outskirts of Dhaka during his short three-day visit. “They gave me sour pickle and laughed watching my reaction. We all laughed together. The language barrier did not matter,” eL Seed said. 

It is this transcendence that the calligraphy artist seeks to achieve everywhere he goes and in every art he creates. And he hopes to continue to ‘unite’ people. 

“I can’t disclose right now the details of what I will do here in Bangladesh. But like always, whatever it is, my goal will be to bring people together,” he said.