eL Seed, self-proclaimed caligraffitist, visits Georgetown

eL Seed

On Wednesday evening, Georgetown welcomed self-proclaimed “caligraffitist” eL Seed to campus. Almost exclusively attended by Arabic majors, eL Seed’s presentation convened in White Gravenor, drawing around 40 students to hear him speak about his work.

eL Seed’s art form, Arabic caligraffiti, incorporates classical Arabic characters into large, colorful murals. Since he began painting in the 1990s, eL Seed has beautified the Star Wars set of Tatooine (located in the middle of the desert in Tunisia), decorated the tallest minaret in Tunisia, and even painted a wall jutting out of the ocean in Doha, Qatar.

He talked about enjoying the challenge of making a piece in a place where no one would expect to see art. When he painted the wall in Qatar, he alluded to stealing a boat, standing on his tip-toes and painting the wall during prayer time so no one—like the police—would be out on the streets. But he swears, “I’m not a rebel.”

Raised in France by Tunisian parents, eL Seed grew up disconnected from his Arab roots. When he reached his late teenage years, he began a quest for his identity. He started studying classical Arabic, and became deeply interested in classical calligraphy. As he has never been formally trained, eL Seed is not considered a true calligrapher; his conservative critics make sure to remind him of this point. So, he made up his own title: eL Seed the calligraphist.

As a point of interest, the name eL Seed comes from Le Cid, which is French for “the master.” Yet another slap in the face for those conservative critics! At one point, he accidentally revealed his true identity. He wasted no time in retorting, “That’s my real name. It’s a secret!”

Being Tunisian, many people expect that the messages of eL Seed’s are meant to be politically charged. But he insists that this is not the case. “I try to make the piece relevant to where I paint it,” he said. On a school house in South Africa, he wrote, “It seems impossible until it’s done.” Another time, when he was feeling nostalgic, he wrote, “I love you mom” in the shape of a heart.

Both modest and exceptionally charming, eL Seed chooses not to sign most of his pieces. He does not want to mark his territory like a dog. If you sign a piece, “It’s like you own the place,” he said. After he takes a photograph of his completed work, he has no claim over the space anymore. The wall belongs to the public.

Personally, Vox is hoping that he decides to give Lau a facelift in the middle of the night.

Photo by Thatcher Cook for Poptech via Flickr

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