CHANGING PERCEPTIONS WITH EL SEED — Magazine — The Galleria Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi
Travel | Men's style | February 10, 2019


French-Tunisian calligraffiti artist eL Seed invites us to his studio at Alserkal Avenue to discuss his work and his thoughts on the art scene in the UAE. 

Mural in Manshiyat Naser, Cairo

From the canvas to sprawling urban neighbourhoods, eL Seed’s artistic influence has spread across the world in a manner few modern artists have achieved.

His urban mural in Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, completed two years ago is a stunning example of the Parisian-born, Dubai-based artist’s raison d’être.

Splashed across 50 buildings in a forsaken part of the Egyptian capital, eL Seed’s artwork bears the words, in his distinctive Arabic calligraffiti-style, of a prominent 3rd-century figure which says, “If one wants to see the light of the sun, he must wipe his eyes.”

Executed in a district known as the “garbage district” because of its low-paid inhabitants who recycle the city’s waste, eL Seed’s daring project captured the imagination of the world, both for the way it sought to bring light to a darkened corridor of Cairo, and also for the imaginative scope of the artist’s mind.

“We called the piece ‘Perception’,” eL Seed tells The Galleria Magazine in an interview at his art gallery at Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz, Dubai, “because we wanted to change the perceptions of the people who just view these workers and the district as garbage.”

“This idea of changing perceptions is at the heart of everything that I do,” the 37-year-old says. Indeed, eL Seed’s oeuvre — from simple canvas pieces to his installment outside the Dubai Opera — feature distinct motifs and capture the essence of calligraffiti: the form he has perfected.

Each artwork has a motto, bon mot, quote or proverb woven into its fabric. From 3rd-century figures to Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet, and French novelist Stendhal, eL Seed’s art is a cultural mish-mash of meaning, form and structure that combines to create thought-provoking pieces which encourage the viewer, spectator or user to see the world subjectively.

Talking to him, it becomes clear that while he is undoubtedly influential in the region, he absolutely rejects the label of “influencer” as it has become popularly understood.

Influence for eL Seed is much more about changing perceptions. Using art as an expressive medium that will speak to his audience in a way that is subjective. Washed clean of all the pretentiousness that dominates the social media feeds of many influencers.

And though he understands and respects the importance that social media feeds have over brand promotion and awareness, it’s an aspect of the modern world he turns away from. Because he can.

eL Seed’s Instagram account, with its 103,000 followers, is not a showground for luxury brands that want to be seen through his art: he refuses this. It’s much more a modern gallery of his artworks, which is in itself a form of self-promotion, but one that refutes brand endorsement.

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eL Seed recently returned from a project where he travelled around Tunisia with a camera crew, recording him as he visited places that he would visit on trips from Paris during his youth. The project was for a brand, but he’s tight-lipped on who the brand was. For the artist, his work and what he does to support his family is less about being seen with a high-end brand and more about the journey of the work itself.

“Tunisia was great because I got to spend time reliving moments from my childhood,” he says. “It was for a brand, who came up with the idea, but that didn’t matter. It was an interesting thing to do.”

The idea of telling stories, of changing perceptions, is a theme he returns to time and again. It’s a theme that he feels the UAE’s art scene will eventually approach and is beginning to do so already.

With the emergence of galleries such as Novus Art Gallery at The Galleria, The Louvre Abu Dhabi, art schools including Tashkeel and initiatives such as the Barjeel Art Foundation set up by Sheikha Lateefa bint Maktoum, eL Seed says the UAE is beginning to find its way in the art world.

“We’ve seen now for more than 10 years things moving in the right direction with the art scene in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. It’s inspiring and motivating seeing something is happening. As for artists, there are more initiatives in place. It’s not like it used to be. It used to be that art was used as a way of promoting a product. Art for marketing. But it’s not so much the case now,” he says.

eL Seed calls his street-style Arabic calligraphy, calligraffiti.

eL Seed was brought out to the UAE after a personal call from Sheikha Lateefa, who has done much to ignite the UAE’s art scene. “She wanted me to come out, work here and concentrate solely on my art to start working towards the creation of a distinctive aesthetic in the region.

“As for where art can go in the region, you look at people such as Amar al Attar whose photographic collection of archival pieces is seeking to tell the story of the country in a new and interesting way. People have stories to tell and they won’t be confined to canvasses or traditional artistic mediums, and that’s exciting,” he adds.

Away from his gallery eL Seed says he likes to dress well, but not in an expensive manner. And, given his heritage — being born in Paris in 1981 to Tunisian parents — he’s a big fan of whipping up a storm in the kitchen. He asked his wife for a particularly good frying pan for his recent birthday.

And while he doesn’t have expensive taste in clothes, he likes to eat well, with Zuma, COYA and Roberto’s all foodie outposts at which you might catch the artist having a meal whilst at The Galleria‘s Dining Collection.